There has been so much happening at the capitol it’s hard to keep up. It’s impossible to say what will be law and what will be vetoed at this point. Some of the budget cuts that are being proposed would take away basic needs care for many individuals with disabilities. I’m not always sure that our legislators recognize that not maintaining basic needs funding will just create compounded health and financial problems in the very near future. I think there are ways to reduce costs, but slashing basic-need programs is not the answer.
Late in March, a Senate bill drew extensive discussion, sometimes heated, about privatizing health care for low-income Minnesotans. The bill under discussion would affect more than 100,000 of our low-income and medically fragile adult Minnesotans. As you may know, Sen. David Hann (R- Eden Prairie) says our Medicaid program is broken. I’m not sure it’s working as well as it could, but in my opinion, it is certainly not broken to the point of starting over, and that is what Hann seemed to be suggesting. Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis), agrees and is very concerned about Hann’s privatization plans.
According to Berglin, Hann’s proposal would give a specific amount of money to low-income Minnesotans to buy private insurance on the open market. These individuals would be given money, a “block grant,” that could only be used to buy health insurance. Berglin raises the point that low-income people would be unlikely to be able to find an insurance policy whose deductible they could afford. How would a person who only makes, say, $10,000 – $12,000 a year be able to afford even a $500 deductible before the insurance would start paying anything? Berglin used a personal example in talking to her colleagues: if she were having heart problems and were in this program, she would go to the emergency room to avoid paying the deductibles that she would be required to pay at her clinic. The emergency room visit would leave the state or hospital paying that first $500 cost of the treatment, in addition to the state paying the cost of the private insurance plan. To me, this is the plan that sounds broken. Most of the block grant plans I’ve seen would be devastating to the disability community in the long run.
I don’t think that anyone anymore will argue that institutionalization of any kind is cheaper than community-based services. We all know that if Grandma, or a young disabled adult, goes to a nursing home, they’re likely to experience significant decreases in physical and mental health. But most importantly, institutionalization is demeaning and demoralizing. At the level of some of the cuts being proposed, there is no question people will have to move out of the community and into institutions. I’ve even heard the Nursing Home Association say that they won’t be able to house the number of people that will be needing institutionalization if some of these budget cuts are made.
Some of our community’s best advocates have made it into mainstream media lately. Cindy Johnson and Kurt Rutzen, along with 20 or 30 others, testified at a recent finance committee meeting concerning legislative cuts to supports for people with disabilities. Johnson made the TV news and an Internet newspaper, Twin Cities Daily Planet. The interview that Johnson gave the Daily Planet provided an outstanding description of how these cuts will affect her family. You know, it sure seems that the mainstream media has been picking up on more disability community issues than in years past—we’re even developing our own celebrities or “rock stars.” I wonder if we aren’t getting more attention because many disability issues have begun to affect the huge base of baby boomers and their parents. Whatever the reason, we need all the serious attention we can get as some in the legislature get ready to sweep us under the carpet.