‘This is a fundamental change:’ Disability groups concerned about health care bill

Senate bill cuts Medicaid by 26% by 2026

Members of the disabled community in Wisconsin are renewing a call to change the health care bills being considered in Congress.

Their primary concern is with a proposed 26 percent cut to Medicaid spending by 2026 in the Senate Republican health care bill, which they say could lead to cuts in crucial services for the disabled.

Stephanie Helle has worked a call center job from her home in Whitewater for the past five years, in part thanks to the home health services she gets paid for by Medicaid. News 3 met Stephanie and her husband Dan two years ago, when they were fighting against changes to state long-term care programs.

Now, they’re fighting once again against the bills proposed to replace the Affordable Care Act, in part because of new experiences beyond their original disabilities.

“I didn’t predict that Dan would be fighting for his life with cancer,” Stephanie Helle said.

‘This is a fundamental change:’ Disability groups concerned about health care bill

Dan Helle was diagnosed with tongue cancer last year; the disease is now in remission. His care, treatment and rehabilitation was also paid for by Medicaid.

“So basically, you saved my life from cancer just to tell me that now, because it’s more expedient for a bunch of rich folks to have their tax cuts, that now I get to go live in a nursing home for the next 40 years?” Dan Helle said. “I don’t think so.”

‘This is a fundamental change:’ Disability groups concerned about health care bill

He and others are concerned about a proposed 26 percent cut to the growth of Medicaid spending by 2026, which in states including Wisconsin largely pays for services to the elderly and disabled.

“This is a fundamental change to a 50-year-old program,” said Lisa Pugh with The Arc Wisconsin. “Once the funding for Medicaid is changed we will be living with the impacts of that for generations. The time to be concerned about it is now.”

News 3 asked Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday what he would say to disability groups that are concerned about those Medicaid cuts and the ability to stay in their homes.

“I’ve been highly concerned about what happens to that community in terms of work opportunities as well as how do we actually pay for the long-term care,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing that I see in the Senate bill that would affect supporting those individuals on a long-term basis.”

The Helles said they recognize that some may be concerned about funding levels of the program or waste and fraud. But they don’t think the current measures are the answer to that issue.

“If you had a leaky pipe in your house, would you just burn your house down?” Stephanie said. “No, you would go in and diagnose and try to improve the problem, fix the problem.”

Johnson said Monday that he would not vote for a “motion to proceed,” which could be made in the Senate later this week. He said he wanted at least two more weeks to continue to talk to the public and the White House about how to improve the measure.