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Response to the Republican Senate’s so-called “health care” plan

Medicaid Story photoI am a 58 year-old male who lives in a small city in a very rural state. I have a few things that I would like to say about what I can honestly say is the worst piece of legislation ever to come out of Washington, D.C. in my lifetime.

The Republican Senate’s so-called “health care” plan would be a disaster for me personally, as well as for my senior parents, many friends and most all of the people that I provide services to through my non-profit job in an agency that supports people with disabilities, including seniors.

Regarding myself, I have several pre-existing conditions. I am angry and disgusted that the Republican plan would encourage “high-risk pools” that would likely send my premiums through the roof at a time that, even with what is considered good health insurance coverage through my employer, I am paying significant out-of-pocket expenses for medical care. Their plan would also allow denial of coverage due to a range of pre-existing conditions that is so broad that it would render the term “health insurance” a virtual joke. I have a heart condition called an atrial fibrillation, as well as a hypoactive thyroid, and the Republican bill would open the door on health insurers saying no to essential coverage for me. I recently had a surgical procedure called a cardiac ablation performed on my heart and may need another one and I am also at a higher risk for stroke. What’s even more disgusting is that I recently read that the fact that I donated a kidney to my brother 20 years ago may also be a reason to deny me coverage or jack up my rates.

This is all despite the fact that I have been healthy and active all of my life and not had to use my health insurance that much until I go into my 40’s. I have never smoked or used drugs, have always pursued an extensive exercise regimen that has included running, biking and swimming, and I have a healthy, low-fat, no red meat diet. So now that I am approaching my senior years, having worked and paid into the system all of my life, the Republicans are essentially saying “Tough luck, sucker! Who cares what you’ve done and now that you’re old, we don’t want to give you a hand.” The fact that I was fine with paying more into system than what I received in my younger years was perfectly fine with me because I knew that someday, I would need to ask for help. I mean, isn’t that the basic principle of insurance?

Enough about me, however. Now I’d like to say how this immoral legislation will affect my parents.

My parents would be devastated by the Medicaid cuts that are included in the Republican “health care” bill. My mother is 88 years old and my stepfather almost 80 and they have worked hard all of their lives and paid into the system. A couple of years ago, due to a fall and a serious fracture in her neck, my mother ended up hospitalized for over two months and then in a nursing home. She was unable to walk and could barely use her hands and arms. After almost a year of exhaustive physical therapy, and driven by her will to be able to return to her Vermont home of 43 years, she was able to accomplish this goal. Do you know why? Because of Choices for Care/Long-Term Medicaid.

Choices for Care pays for care providers and nurse visits that are essential for my mother to be able to live safely and happily at home. My stepfather, who has had three heart attacks, a bout with cancer, a knee replacement and neuropathy in his legs, is unable to take care of my mother by himself or to take care of their home. Any cuts to CFC would likely mean that my mother would end up back in a nursing home and I can say with certainty, that she would not choose to last long in such circumstances. Yes, in other words she would essentially decide to die. Can you connect the dots here? Can you see beyond profit margins for big corporations, tax breaks for billionaire friends and the blind lust for continued power?

And, since so many Senate Republicans appear to care for nothing but the bottom line I should say that providing such assistance for people living at home has proven to cheaper than forcing them into nursing homes. I can’t imagine that anyone would be of the mentality that my mother should be forced into a nursing home that would shorten her life and not allow she and my stepfather a few more years of happiness in their own home. Could such an uncaring, immoral and solely profit and power-driven mentality exist? Dare I mention that this legislation would also mean cuts in nursing homes as well and that there might not be enough beds for those who could be forced back into such facilities? Dare I say that if she died sooner….THAT would save the most money of all?

Please just do us all a favor and stop mincing words with this so-called “health care” bill. It’s truly a “no-care” bill and a “please die soon so we can increase our profit margins” bill. It truly is a death bill.

And no, I will not apologize for being blunt! This is what is at stake for those of us in the real trenches. This is what is at stake for the 99% of us who are stressed out each and every day by majorities in the Senate and Congress as well as a President who we know don’t give a damned about us and who display contempt for us each and every day. This is what is at stake for the majority who did NOT vote for this radical agenda!

I’m not finished either. I’d like you to take note of some friends and co-workers of mine. You see, they are struggling with either unemployment, under-employment or working several jobs to just scrape by. And you know what? They would not have ANY health insurance if not for the Affordable Care Act and the resulting Medicaid expansion. You might smile at a camera and say that if your legislation becomes law “oh, they choose not to buy health insurance,” when you know as well as I do, that their real choices are NOT that simple. And their options are not a fraction of what our elected officials in D.C. have, with their taxpayer subsidized, Cadillac health care plans, and the well-paid lobbyist or corporate jobs awaiting so many of you as soon as you decide that you’ve served the 1% for long enough.

Have you any clue what it’s like to be without any health insurance coverage? Do you have any idea, whatsoever, of the stress that it causes? Hey, if I speak to the only thing that so many of you seem to be able to hear, do you actually think that this is good for the economy? Do you think that working for low, minimum wages in service industry jobs that do not provide any health insurance options means that you can afford health insurance after paying for rent, utilities, food, transportation, car insurance, student loan payments, uncovered medical expenses, etc.? Do you have any clue as to what it’s like to have to choose between paying the rent or buying groceries? Do you have any understanding of the quality of life one has when forced to work a full-time job and then one or more part-time jobs just to pay the basic bills…and what that is like when you can’t afford health insurance because indifferent people like too many in elected office render it too expensive because all they care about is profits? Have you ever been forced to go to work when you were running a temperature of 101 degrees and were puking every half-hour because you have NO sick time and if you didn’t do so, you would NOT be able to pay the rent? Do you understand how that causes contagious illnesses to spread to others and negatively affects a business or non-profit or other workplace?

Oh, but that great American work ethic! It makes us competitive with other nations that so many of you condemn for being “socialistic.” but which seem to compete quite capably in the global economy with (what you call) their “nanny state” universal health care coverage. And at what cost to the American worker? Shorter life spans? Higher rates of infant mortality? Higher cancer rates? Oh, but the bottom line….for the “Stratus Dwellers” (for those who watched the original “Star Trek”). Profits and power above all else!

Finally, I’d like to say a few words about my job. You see, I’m one of those foolish people who has worked for lower pay in a non-profit job for all of my life. There are actually some of us out here who are not solely motivated by making money, but by doing good for other people and for the planet.

I’m currently employed by an agency that provides services for people with disabilities. Most of them are low-income. A huge number are seniors and some are veterans. Some are unable to work due to the severity of their disabilities, while others have worked for all or some of their lives and were forced to go on disability benefits. Some would go back to work if there were proper support and resources. Or if employers would actually hire them and not discriminate against them or not make reasonable accommodations for them. Of course, this is a whole other topic that I fully expect is somewhere on the agenda for the current Administration and not in a way that is a positive for people with disabilities.

Let me tell you about one such person because she’s my co-worker. She has a traumatic brain injury, is completely blind, and she is paraplegic and must use an electric wheelchair. Her disabilities are the direct result of “Shaken Baby Syndrome.” Are you familiar with it? She was shaken by her father when she was less than a year old. I guess the insurance companies would consider this….a pre-existing condition.

Like my Mom, my co-worker is receiving Choices for Care. Her care providers assist with all of her daily living activities, from getting out of bed, bathed and dressed each day, to cooking meals, cleaning her apartment, and to getting her back in bed at night. What does she do between the times of getting up and going to bed?

Well, Monday through Friday she is employed part-time. She earned her B.A. at a local college and is an advocate for other people with disabilities. In fact, one of her major duties is to help other people transition out of nursing homes and into their own apartments. On weekends she is active in her church. She is fulfilled, happy and giving back to the community. She wouldn’t be able to do so without the services she is receiving through Choices for Care/Long-Term Medicaid.

How would Medicaid cuts affect her? If her care provider hours are cut at all, she may not be able to work. She could, conceivably end up in a nursing home. Is this the kind of life that she would deserve in a country that is contemplating billions in tax cuts for those who are already rolling in luxury?

Let me note a few other people that I know through this job and who rely on Medicaid.

A woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury who has been struggling, on SSI and while living in subsidized housing, to attain her Bachelor’s degree.

A woman who has a rapidly progressing and debilitating form of Parkinson’s Disease who lives on a back, dirt road in a rural area. Her husband has to continue working and the couple’s daughters work and have been supportive, but this woman would be forced into a nursing home if not for Long-term Medicaid.

A man with quadriplegia due to a fall who battled for almost two years to get out of a nursing home and into his own apartment where he is able to live thanks to the supports of Choices for Care. He has told me that he will do anything to keep from going back to a nursing home. In fact, he has articulated that he would “rather die than go back to a nursing home.”

A man with schizophrenia who desperately wants to work, has been employed a few times and done a great job, and then lost his employment due to the inconsistency of his medications’ effectiveness and his going through extreme psychotic episodes. Does he choose this?

A veteran in a nursing home who has already noted fewer staff available, less in-house activities offered, diminished quality of meals, due to budget cuts. He would like to get out of the facility and into his own apartment but will certainly not be able to without the Choices for Care program because he has quadriplegia due to an auto accident.

These are the people that you are choosing not to see or hear in this process. These are the people that many of you hide from behind closed doors while you make decisions that will radically, and adversely, affect their lives. These are the people that you know likely cannot contribute to election campaigns and who are most likely not to vote. These are the people without swarms of lobbyists in D.C. These are the people that you are, supposedly, in elected office to represent but whom you won’t even look in the eye when you make decisions that will make them suffer and…YES….die in many cases. If you had the guts to look them in the eye you would see fear. And in many cases you would see anger as well. This is what happens when people have everything to lose.

I would hope that there might some modicum of caring left in a few members in the U.S. Senate from the Party that has been obsessed with repealing the Affordable Care Act for years. I would hope that a few would recognize how immoral it would be to cut the health care of 22 million of our most vulnerable citizens, render health care unaffordable for millions more, penalize those who are seniors and/or have pre-existing conditions, potentially close hundreds of rural health clinics that make health care accessible to more millions, cut off the health care of children who have no voice at all in the process and who are not responsible for their circumstances, end access for hundreds of thousands of veterans, and allow pharmaceutical companies to make even bigger profits at the expense of the health and lives of people. I would hope that a few would reject legislation that is cynically and obscenely called the “American Health Care Act” as if straight out of the novel “1984,” when the real goal of this bill is more billions of tax breaks for those that don’t need them and to boast about a “big win,” as if it’s all only about party, egos and greed.

However as with tens of millions of Americans now, we don’t expect that the Senate’s majority will do anything in our interest or will display any ounce of caring, ethics or integrity. Rather I fully expect that if any of my narrative is read on the Senate floor, it will receive the same response as I recall from a state level hearing I attended years ago on the need for more funding for care providers for people with disabilities. A disabled teenager had been wheeled in on a hospital gurney to plead for help so he could continue to live in his own home and I recall one member of an elected board casually doodling on a piece of paper the entire time. He never made eye contact with this constituent. And he later voted no for the increase of funding.

I truly hope I am wrong on this. I truly hope that a few will have the courage to say that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it’s a start and can continue to move us in a direction that will provide for a healthier, happier and more productive country. I hope a few will have the guts to say “no” to the “American Health Care Act” and then be able to look us in the eye and say they did the right thing.

But regardless of how you vote, do note that people like me are not going to lie down and let this obscenity of a bill pass without fighting like hell. And if it does pass, I will continue to fight to return this country to a place of sanity, basic decency and a sense of the common good that is of benefit to all of us. After all, the world has always been made a better place by those that truly care.