Advocates for people with disabilities flooded the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., Monday to protest the GOP 2012 budget proposal (PDF), authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which includes approximately 35 percent in funding cuts to Medicaid and a complete overhaul of the program by turning the states’ federal shares into block grants.
Mike Ervin, an organizer for the national disability-advocacy group ADAPT and founder of its Chicago branch, is one of about 300 protesters from 25 different states who traveled to Capitol Hill to tell congressional leaders how Ryan’s proposal would impact the disability community.
“The idea of block granting really scares us, because a lot of people with disabilities rely on Medicaid in order to stay out of institutions,” Ervin said. “Block granting … gets rid of the idea that people are entitled to a minimun amount, no matter what their situation is. Now there will be less money available.”
For decades now, members from ADAPT and its state affiliates have made the trip one week every spring to Capitol Hill to lobby for or against legislation and to demand equality for people with disabilities (the group was instrumental in pushing for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act).
Of the 300 people circling the rotunda in the Cannon Building, Ervin said about 200 of them are in wheelchairs. One aspect of the proposal to block-grant Medicaid that worries ADAPT, he said, is that there might not be enough money for all recipients to purchase the medical equipment and medicine they need.
In addition to a “health care tax credit,” Rep. Ryan has proposed providing Medicaid beneficiaries with about $11,000 that can be applied to health care costs but has made an exception for states’ “long-term care and disabled populations,” which would not receive the tax credit. Instead, each state would receive a block grant of that portion of Medicaid funds.
“This change allows States maximum flexibility to tailor their Medicaid programs to the specific needs of their populations,” reads Ryan’s Roadmap Plan.
ADAPT does not agree and believes what will happen is that more Medicaid recipients with disabilities — most of whom lack steady jobs or another source of income — will be forced to move out of their communities and into institutions.
“We feel if they are really serious about the cost of Medicaid, they ought to do exactly the opposite of what Ryan is proposing,” said Ervin, who has muscular dystrophy and is mostly paralyzed from the neck down but is able to live at home with his wife because his home state of Illinois chooses to pay for his long-term care services through Medicaid.
Members intend to crowd the House building until they are spoken to by congressional leaders, Ryan or the president or until they are arrested. Their message to leaders will be to reject the idea of block-granting Medicaid and to require all states to make long-term care services (providing people with disabilities the opportunity to get care in their homes rather than in institutions) a mandated rather than optional Medicaid benefit.
UPDATE: At about 6:30 p.m. EST Monday, Capitol police began arresting ADAPT members who refused to leave the rotunda. The organization released a brief statement as the arrests began:
Tonight, Capitol Police have begun arresting ADAPT members from all over the country, who have remained in the Cannon House Office Building since midday. The ADAPTers want Representatives Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Michelle Bachmann to publicly withdraw their support for Medicaid budget cuts and Medicaid state block grants. Without this commitment, ADAPT has decided to make a point that we are willing to do whatever it takes to defend the right of people with disabilities and seniors to live in our homes, not nursing homes and institutions. It is unacceptable for our own government to treat the 60 million Americans who rely on Medicaid like garbage.
Ervin told TAI that about 100 people have been arrested so far, many of them chanting “I’d rather be in jail than in a nursing home!” He said Ryan sent his chief of staff to speak with the protesters but that Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to speak to the organization. Representatives who talked to the group and listened to their demands included: John Lewis (D-Ga.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Barney Frank (D-Mass.).