Feb 05, 2020
Last week when Lynn Williams heard the Trump administration announcement that would allow states to convert federal funding for Medicaid into block grants, she felt exasperated.
The Trump changes come on the heels of a major snafu in which state officials revealed the benefits system that determines who is eligible for Medicaid in Ohio is so riddled with defects, it's responsible for leaving tens of thousands of people without health care.
Block grants threaten to shrink a federal program that Trump is bent on dismantling, even though Medicaid provides access to doctors and life-saving medication for over 70 million Americans.
Williams, an organizer at the community-based economic and racial justice organization Contact Center in Cincinnati, said that having vital services cut because of technological issues is bad enough, but the Trump announcement to deliberately take away Medicaid from people who need it "sparked a whole new level of outrage."
Block grants threaten to shrink a federal program that Trump is bent on dismantling, even though Medicaid provides access to doctors and life-saving medication for over 70 million Americans struggling to get by, especially children in low-income families and people with disabilities. The proposed "Healthy Adult Opportunity" is part of Trump's and the Republican Party's campaign to undermine not just the Medicaid program, but also the Affordable Care Act.
Right now, funding for Medicaid is structured so that everyone who is eligible gets services and funding expands with need. If more people need coverage because, for example, the economy tanks and people lose their jobs and insurance, they can get coverage. Moving to a block grant for Medicaid would mean that funding is fixed and states will not have the flexibility to help those who need the resources most.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released a joint statement after Trump's announcement saying they would vote on a resolution today to disapprove of the block grant plan. They called it illegal and promised to "not allow this challenge to healthcare access in our country go unanswered." Only Congress has the authority to block grant Medicaid, and they have rejected proposals to do so.
Following suit, legislators across the country have also rejected Trump's plan. U.S. Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey called it "one of the most cynically fiendish schemes I've ever seen in government."
Priscilla Robinson, an organizer with the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP), which is one of hundreds of grassroots organizations we work with at Community Change, said that although New Jersey likely won't turn to block grants to administer the Medicaid program, NJOP is standing up with organizers in other states around the country. Together, we are part of a national campaign to lift up the stories of people whose lives are saved every day because they have access to Medicaid.
"If one of us is under attack, all of us are," Robinson said. "I live in New Jersey, but I have a sister in Texas and family across the country. I can't imagine not having them be healthy and happy and thriving."
New Jersey is one of the many states that expanded their Medicaid program once the Affordable Care Act passed. But there is still more work to be done. Robinson is working to strengthen Medicaid in New Jersey to help combat the opioid crisis, which kills eight New Jerseyans every day. Many Medicaid recipients have difficulty finding providers who accept the federal plan and who offer Medication Assisted Treatment -- the gold standard for treating addiction, according to substance abuse and mental health experts. With so few providers, beds and appointments get filled up quickly, meaning those in urgent need can be placed on lengthy waitlists. The results can be deadly.
"If you have to wait, it's often too late," Robinson said.
There are stories like these all over the country. When Medicaid coverage is expanded, people are given a chance to thrive. When it's restricted, it creates a narrow margin between life and death.
Trump's plan will endanger the people who need health care most--pregnant women, children, young adults aging out of foster care, and people with disabilities. We all get sick. Health care is not a privilege for the wealthy. It's a right that all people, no exceptions, should be afforded. That's why we should expand access to affordable health care, not destroy it.
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