Disabled people to Cory Gardner: Our survival depends on Medicaid 

A lot to lose

click to enlarge 22 million could lose insurance under GOP plan - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • 22 million could lose insurance under GOP plan

'What's this about?" a passerby asked a throng of protesters on Tejon Street on the morning of June 22.

"They're going to take away our Medicaid," someone answered, gesturing to the handmade signs.

"Ah man, really? I'm on Medicaid. OK, I'll come back after lunch. Save me a sign!" he replied.

Over 175,000 people in El Paso County are on Medicaid — the government program that insures low-income people, children whose parents lack insurance and people with disabilities who need specialized or long-term care. Well over half those people gained coverage through Medicaid expansion, which changed eligibility requirements and added more buy-in options, under the now-imperiled Affordable Care Act.

The protesters convened just hours after Senate Republicans unveiled a "discussion draft" of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which is a revised version of the American Health Care Act that House Republicans passed in May. They're both designed to repeal and replace Obamacare, and work essentially the same way — by reducing subsidies for individual plans, getting rid of essential health benefits, repealing the individual mandate, and redefining what's considered an "affordable" plan. Rather than reduce the deficit, the money saved would be used to cut the capital gains tax, income tax on people earning over $250,000 and taxes on insurance and pharmaceutical companies. In other words, the GOP plan is to cut billions in government spending that helps poor and sick Americans, then pass along those savings to the rich.

Only a few Senate Republicans need to vote "no" for the bill to fail. Our own Sen. Cory Gardner could prove pivotal, since he's on the secretive 13-member drafting committee; he's from a purple state where Medicaid expansion is popular; and he hasn't staked a position yet. To urge a "no" vote, ARC of the Pikes Peak Region organized the rally outside his downtown office. About 40 people came out.

Among them was Joan LaBelle, who has a rare autoimmune disease. She's gainfully employed with private health insurance that covers the medical devices she needs for daily living, like, as she calls them, her "picker-upper" and "sock putter-onner." Until he recently aged out, her service dog was paid for too. Those are all things Medicaid would cover if she lacked private insurance, as she did in her early adulthood. "Those years would've been really scary without Medicaid," she says. "There's no way my dad (who worked for General Motors in Michigan) could've afforded my care. I would've had to be institutionalized."

Instead, with Medicaid and other assistance, LaBelle was able to get educated, find her community and gain employment.

"Not only is [having insurance] better for me in my life," LaBelle says, "but it's cheaper for everyone for me to live on my own, with the tools I need to go to my job."

Street protesters aren't the only ones encouraging a "no" vote. On June 24, two days after the rally, Sen. Gardner attended a high-dollar donor retreat at The Broadmoor hosted by the Koch brothers' political network, which reportedly plans to spend upwards of $300 million in the next election cycle. Americans for Prosperity, the network's political arm, opposes the BCRA because it's not conservative enough. "This Senate bill needs to get better," the organization's president, Tim Phillips, declared at the retreat, according to The Denver Post.

Patricia Yeager, CEO of the Independence Center, which advocates for disability rights, has an interpretation of what Phillips means by "better." "It's population control," she says. "When they take away home- and community-based services, you'll see fewer people (with disabilities) in the streets. And that's because when there's not enough space in nursing homes, and when families can't take them, they'll die."

Senate leadership hopes for a vote before the July 4 recess.

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