A special message from our President & CEO Diane Beastrom.

Just a few decades ago many people with developmental disabilities lived hidden away in segregated obscurity. They were warehoused in institutions, paid pennies in sheltered workshops and often treated with unsympathetic obligation.

Since the 1970s, Ohio has made tremendous improvements advancing the rights of people with disabilities to become more fully integrated into their communities. Many now live richer, more fulfilling lives. Sadly, however, that progress now faces a sudden setback if the Senate’s health care bill becomes law.

The proposed legislation, now called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, repeals President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, calls for an $800-billion reduction in Medicaid spending over the next decade. For people with disabilities, the cuts would devastate basic daily services, such as nursing, transportation and home care that enable independent living.

For this segment of the population, Medicaid represents much more than financial support. It provides the ability to live freely in apartments and houses, attend neighborhood schools, worship openly and work outside of an institution. Without it, the lives of many people could regress sharply back toward segregation.

While the Senate health care bill recognizes that disabilities need protection from dramatic Medicaid cuts, it unwittingly creates a cliff for children when they turn 19. What happens when they grow up?

It’s an unintended consequence that lawmakers have likely overlooked. But throughout the past 40 years, since the civil rights of people with developmental disabilities entered the public consciousness, evidence has shown repeatedly that when funding is reduced, diluted or transferred, those who are least able to object often suffer most.

If passed into law, funding for disability programs would be capped and financial responsibility would shift to the states. Many states, most especially Ohio, are still reeling from the recession and unable absorb additional expenses. Any federal funding that might find its way to the states would be forced to compete with other priorities crying louder for attention.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is expected to oppose the bill in its entirety. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is still reviewing the draft but said he could support the legislation with certain changes. I urge everyone to contact both Ohio senators to let them know that for many people, Medicaid is much more than a subsidy. It’s the lifeblood of essential human rights that many of us take for granted every day.

Diane Beastrom is president and CEO of Koinonia Homes, a leading 501(c)(3) organization in Northeast Ohio that provides residential services, day programs and employment services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


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