Saturday, December 4, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021

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Vulnerable rally for Medicaid benefits

They say cuts proposed in face of state deficit will end up costing more, hurt many

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Ellen King, a supporter of universal health care, reminds us what Gandhi said about society's treatment of its most vulnerable.
Ellen King, a supporter of universal health care, reminds us what Gandhi said about society's treatment of its most vulnerable. About 50 people rallied Thursday to raise public awareness of current and planned cuts to state Medicaid benefits for the needy. Photo Gallery

If you need eyeglasses to drive but you’ve just lost your Medicaid payment for glasses, what happens to your mobility and independence?

If you need the state’s Basic Health Program to afford any doctor at all, but the program is eliminated, what happens to your health?

If you need a caretaker to stay at home — but your caretaker’s state support is crumbling — what happens to you?

Many of the roughly 50 people who turned out for a “Candlelight Vigil and Rally to Restore Medicaid Benefits” on Thursday evening said they feel their lives are on the line.

“I’ve already fallen through,” said John Perkins, whose disability-related medical bills were just rejected by Medicaid and whose eyeglasses aren’t getting any younger. Eventually, he said, he will wind up sick and shut in — unless the budget cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire last month are somehow averted.

Nobody claims to like Gregoire’s budget plan — least of all the governor herself. When she released it on Dec. 15 she said, “in some places, I don’t even think it’s moral.” But because Washington is facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit, and state law requires a balanced budget, her hands are tied during this prolonged economic downturn.

Eliminated as of Jan. 1 are Medicaid payments for eyeglasses, hearing aids, routine podiatry and routine dental care. Medicaid no longer reimburses schools for health care-related services that are part of children’s Individual Education Plans. And Medicare Part D will no longer pick up out-of-pocket costs for medications. And more than 40,000 seniors and disabled persons have lost an average 10 percent of in-home (therapy) care hours.

Proposed cuts that could take effect on March 1 would eliminate the Basic Health Program, which provides subsidized medical insurance to 66,000 poorer Washingtonians, as well as cash grants and medical care for a Disability Lifeline program that aids unemployable adults not receiving federal aid. It also eliminates the Children’s Health Program, which provides medical coverage for 27,000 children who might be in the country illegally.

The Legislature is getting ready to wrestle with Gregoire’s proposal beginning Monday. Democratic lawmakers have vowed to find ways to avoid deep social service cuts; Gregoire has wished them good luck.

“The budget makers should work in my home for a week, before they decide,” said Vickie Hunter, a state-supported caretaker for two developmentally disabled women who accompanied her to the rally — but who are unable to speak for themselves.

Her charges “will lose medical benefits and resources,” Hunter said. “Our staff is being cut, and we won’t have the time to spend on them. They need 24-hour care. It’s just insane, it really is.”

Tom Farnsworth predicted that any savings the state realizes through Medicaid cuts will be outstripped by skyrocketing emergency room costs that result from injuries, illnesses and accidents that result as people lose medications and caretakers.

The crowd turned out to wave signs at passing cars — with messages like “These cuts really hurt!” and “Seriously!” and Mahatma Gandhi’s famous admonition that a society is only as good as its treatment of its most vulnerable.

The rally, held in the former Kmart parking lot in midtown Vancouver along Northeast Andresen Road, was one of many public rallies held across the state this week, according to David Lord of Disability Rights Washington, a legal and advocacy firm.

“You’ve got legislators who need to hear from you about the cuts that will affect you personally,” Lord told the crowd. “They don’t want to hurt the people who are most vulnerable: children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. You need to tell them.”

Tim Gensler, chairman of the board of Disability Resources of Southwest Washington, had this suggestion: “Take a picture of your child, or your parent, or the person you are helping, and send it to your legislator. They need to see our faces. They need to see who they’re cutting off.”

Darla Helt, coordinator of the Parent Coalition of the Arc of Clark County, which works with people with disabilities, said she will be traveling to Olympia frequently to visit with legislators and is looking for people to join her.

Contact her via darlah@arcofclarkcounty.org to learn more.

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