GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Minnesota families who rely on Medicaid are speaking out against the Senate bill that would restructure the program, cap its spending and reduce its funding significantly over time.
A coalition called “This is Medicaid” has organized in response to the potential cuts. Children, older adults, people with disabilities, and people experiencing mental illnesses across the state depend on the program, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance, which gives access to health coverage and care, including doctor’s visits and nursing home care.
To Pam Gonnella, of Eagan, Medicaid is a safety net, allowing her daughter Sarah, 35, to thrive in a Mendota Heights group home, operated by the non-profit Living Well Disability Services.
“So the parents and the families, we are really frantic and terrified, what the future of our children will be, because they rely on that, and we rely on that, Sarah's been on Medicaid since 1988,” said Gonnella.
Her daughter contracted a viral illness at age 5, that led to severe seizures, which caused significant brain injury and permanent disabilities that require 24 hour care.
“So a result she can no longer speak, we have to feed her and dress her and bathe her, watch out for her all the time, she has a seizure disorder which causes her to fall,” said Gonnella.
Now her worry, Sarah's complex care could slip away under the plan, leaving her advocates to defend the necessity of her services.
Laura Mortenson represents the “This is Medicaid” coalition, calls the proposed cuts an unprecedented proposal. Her organization is urging concerned Minnesotans to contact their lawmakers.
“In Minnesota, over 1 million Minnesotans are supported by Medicaid, the proposals on the table today would reflect an almost 34 billion dollar loss to the state of Minnesota in federal funds, so that means a loss of services to people like Sarah,” said Mortenson.
Medicaid covers about 70 million Americans, including low-income residents, seniors in nursing homes (over 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid) and people with disabilities.
First, the Senate GOP bill would eliminate a major expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, but it would go a lot further than repealing Obamacare's changes. It would also cap the amount of funding states can get on a per-recipient basis rather than continue the current system, in which states decide how much to spend and then have the federal government match their contribution.
States, which pay a portion of the cost of Medicaid, would have to find new funding or cut the program through restricting enrollment, curbing benefits, reducing payments to health care providers or finding efficiencies. But there is little evidence that large savings can be achieved through efficiencies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Someone with a child who has an injury like Sarah today, those programs might not be there for them, there may be waiting lists,” Gonnella. “If I could tell my congressman, please don't vote for this, please, listen to the people who are really helped out by this program.”
She looks at what is at stake – the health and the happiness of her daughter in the group home, all possible because of Medicaid.
“This is the house that Medicaid built, along with the love of parents,” said Gonnella. “She is happy here, I thought no one could replace me, but know I know there are enough wonderful loving people in the world to care for her, as I am old and not able to do that anymore.
To learn more about a “This is Medicaid” community conversation in Burnsville on Saturday, June 24, click here. Senator Al Franken will attend.