MA reform: We’ll be back

The 2016 legislative session was my first as director of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD). Early on my expectations were tempered by numerous admonitions from colleagues and co-workers that this might not be a “big win” year for Medical Assistance (MA) reform. Still we approached it with all the gusto necessary for a reform of this magnitude. We planned and strategized, got others on board and prepared our reserve of collateral materials. We profiled individuals for our Faces of Disability project, printed posters and crossed our fingers. The campaign was launched.

Even in a year with tempered expectations and repeated reminders that there would be no funding for health and human services, we kept a positive focus. We planned an upgraded version of Tuesdays at the Capitol, scheduled lobbyist meetings and started to campaign various legislators. We got many legislators’ signatures on the bills, sent literally hundreds of advocates to speak with their respective representatives, created stellar arguments, gave educational presentations, wrote articles and updates, and hung in throughout the rollercoaster ride that session can be.

On the hopeful side, we kept telling ourselves, “They can’t just ignore the problem, let alone all our advocacy!” And, many agreed. Everyone we talked to seemed to understand the plight that people on the MA spend-downs and asset limits are experiencing. Expecting people to live on $736 per month, $792 as of July is outrageous!

You can barely rent a decent apartment for that amount, let alone buy groceries and other necessities. What can state government be thinking? The fact that individuals without disabilities live
well above the poverty line and can still keep their MA makes our heads spin about the way we treat those with disabilities in this state.

Still, we at MN-CCD persevered. There were hopeful moments when hearings went well when legislators supported inclusion when spirits ran high with balloons tied to creative ideas and disseminated to leadership. Unfortunately, all our hard work and positive perspective did not net the desired results. An increase in the spenddown and asset limits did not pass, and for another year at least, people with disabilities on MA will have to live way below the poverty level.

As reprehensible as this fact is, the fight is not over. The battle is lost, but not the war, to use a rather tired adage. How do we in the community lick our wounds, retrench and plan for the future? I would say we start by looking at the successes we did have this season, including the 859 advocates who came to Tuesdays at the Capitol and made posters advocating for reform, or the real faces of the individuals who told us what it meant just to have people care.

Our ultimate goal may be to pass the bills and put more money in people’s pockets, but the bolstering of people’s emotional and mental well-being is important too. Success exists on both intrinsic and extrinsic levels, and that is important to remember. I know this session we at MN-CCD directly touched a lot of lives and they ours, and we are all much richer for it. This year we will have to take our wins and begin to plan for next year, Even though the feel-good intangibles do not pay the rent advocating for reform must continue.

What will we do for next year? I do not have the answer to that question right now. However what I can assure you, is that there is a highly dedicated group of people working through MN-CCD to find an answer that will ultimately pay the rent. Planning will start in earnest this summer, and the future holds, as it always does, the hope of needed success.

-Sheryl Grassie is executive director of MN-CCD.