Proposed Medicaid cuts will pit needy groups against each other, advocate fears

Nancy Murray, president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at ACHIEVA
Friday, March 24, 2017

Replacing former President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms would bring the biggest changes ever to the government health care program for people who are poor and disabled, opponents of the replacement bill said Thursday. Changes to Medicaid that are contained in the proposed American Health Care Act — which include state caps on the amount of federal funding for the program — will ultimately pit the needs of one vulnerable group of people against another, leaving state administrators to sort out which group is most needy, said Nancy Murray, president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at ACHIEVA, in a conference call Thursday with reporters.

At risk are so-called Medicaid program waivers, funding for home and community-based services such as therapy and nursing assistance, which allow people with disabilities to live in the community instead of an institution, Ms. Murray said. “These are services that people desperately need to continue to live at home with their families,” Ms. Murray, the mother of two grown children with intellectual disabilities, said during the conference call sponsored by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a Harrisburg-based education and advocacy group. “We’re desperately afraid that the progress we’ve made since the 1970s could all disappear in the next couple years.”

The conference call was conducted as Congress hashed out details of the Obamacare replacement bill, which was expected to come before the full House for a vote Friday. Medicaid was signed into law in 1965 by former President Lyndon Johnson. Pennsylvania spends about $23.3 billion annually on Medicaid, with about $2.6 billion spent on home and community services for 78,000 Pennsylvanians, according to the Kaiser Health Foundation, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based education and advocacy group.

Supporters of the House Republican bill say Medicaid block grants to states will allow greater flexibility in how the dollars are spent, while saving the federal government, which matches state contributions to the program, about $30 billion in premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions that are part of Obamacare.

Bucks County hairdresser Jennifer Winter, the mother of a 2-year-old son with Down syndrome, said the proposed Medicaid reform was not a partisan issue. The self-described Republican said Medicaid benefits have allowed her son to “grow and develop and reach his full potential.”

“I have health insurance as the result of Medicaid expansion,” which Gov. Tom Wolf instituted in 2015, Ms. Winter said. “Without Medicaid, he can’t survive.”

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Article by Kris Mamula