Meetings Tap Chord with Disability Community
After a whirlwind tour of Minnesota to educate people with disabilities and their families on state and federal health care policy changes, leading disability advocates are excited by the results they achieved. The August 2006 meetings, one held in each congressional district, also featured personal stories of the effects of Medicaid and skills training on how to effectively work with state legislators.
“We reached hundreds of families, particularly in rural Minnesota,” said Joel Ulland, cochair of the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD), the coalition of more than 50 statewide disability provider and advocacy organizations that sponsored the Medicaid Town Hall meetings. “People are hungry for this kind of information and eager to know how they can get involved to preserve these critical health services.”
The meetings are part of a broad coalition strategy that is attempting to leverage the strength of the grass-roots efforts of many disability organizations. “The 2007 legislative session will set the state budget for the next two years,” said Ulland. “We need all the help we can get from as many people as possible.”
In all, nine meetings were held, from Crookston to Marshall in the west to Duluth and Rochester in the east. The goal, said Jeff Nachbar of the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota, was “to give people the tools to ask lawmakers and political candidates where they stand on the Medicaid program. In that regard, we were tremendously successful.” Nachbar chairs the MN-CCD grass roots subcommittee.
The meetings included policy overviews of the federal Deficit Reduction Act, which, in part, granted states a great deal of flexibility to alter state Medicaid benefits and copay-ment amounts without first seeking federal approval. While this new flexibility could mean positive changes for the Medicaid program, it could also result in some negative changes. For this reason MN-CCD sponsored a law (that was approved in 2006) that requires the state to first inform a panel of advocates before making substantial changes to the Medicaid program. Some states without this kind of requirement have seen major changes to their Medicaid program occur with no opportunity for public input or advance notification.
Advocacy training was also a key part of the Town Hall Meetings, with tips on how to contact state policymakers and how to tell your personal story in a way that is most effective. Information packets were available for all attendees, and were made possible by the generous funding of the state Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the two-hour informational sessions was the personal stories and testimony given by both people with disabilities themselves and family members who live daily with people enrolled in the Medicaid program. These stories and anecdotes painted vivid pictures of lives well lived because of the benefits provided by and paid for with publicly funded health insurance.
“Medicaid preserves my family’s health and safety,” Tom Turan, the father of two sons with disabilities, told a crowd of more than 50 gathered in Bloomington at the Aug. 2 forum. “It provides my family with the extra arms and eyes [of home health aides] to watch the boys. Without it I don’t know where we’d be.”
MN-CCD is planning another series of statewide meetings to be held after the November general election. The target audience will be newly elected lawmakers at the state, local, and federal level. Please monitor future editions of Access Press for details on these hearings. Anyone interested in learning more about MN-CCD can call Christian Knights at 763-520-0725.