My Medicaid Matters…whose Medicaid?

By: Jamie Louise Cooney, MSW Intern

Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley Inc. (ILCHV)

 

“MY MEDICAID MATTERS, MY MEDICAID MATTERS, MY MEDICAID MATTERS!” We chanted, hoping everyone in the Capitol building would hear our cry to protect Medicaid. On Sept. 21, hundreds of us made our way up Capitol Hill to rally against arbitrary cuts to Medicaid. A wide variety of organizations and individuals stood united for reforms to save money without weakening Medicaid services.

            Gerontology is my field. I’ve always felt passionate about helping elderly people in distress. So when my field instructor at the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley asked me if I wanted to go to a rally in Washington to fight cuts in Medicaid, I said, “Count me in!”

Support for Some Not for All

I knew that a huge number of poor elderly had no other way to get medical care except through Medicaid, but as I researched Medicaid to get ready for the rally, the scales fell from my eyes: The elderly make up only a small part of those who will not have health care without Medicaid.  At the rally, I was stunned to learn that 49 percent of those on Medicaid are children. Nearly half of Medicaid is for kids! Yet I was amazed that practically no children or families attended the rally. Normally, people are passionate about kids. Could it be that children’s advocates weren’t rallying alongside me because they have no clue that 49 percent of Medicaid supports children?

 

The Cuts to Medicaid that Won’t Heal

Speaker after speaker told personal stories about how Medicaid is the only way they can get the health services they need. Billy Wright, an elderly man, relies on Medicaid to stay in the community and out of an institution. Gilda Brown provides homecare for a disabled woman. Medicaid pays Brown, who makes her living as a home health aide. Rahnee Patrick said Medicaid paid for her wheelchair. After hearing these personal stories, how can we justify cuts to a program that is so essential to the lives of real human beings, our neighbors, maybe even our relatives?

 

Power in Passion not Numbers

When I think of how many people are on Medicaid in comparison to how many were at the rally, to say I’m disappointed is an understatement. A few hundred people fighting on behalf of more than 50 million Americans is mindboggling! The image of standing shoulder to shoulder like crusaders in the historic civil rights rallies quickly evaporated when I was hit with the harsh reality of the lack of support Medicaid receives. Although the numbers weren’t there, the enthusiasm, the speakers, and the sense of empowerment were.  Congressman Danny Davis, whose booming voice was like that of Dr. Martin Luther King, gave the crowd great words of encouragement: “Without struggle, there is no progress; without pain, there is no success.” We may have been struggling to fight cuts in Medicaid but as a group, we were going to battle using all means possible. We were empowered individuals.

A rally isn’t something everyone gets to experience. Not everyone can say they are passionate about something and feel so strongly about it that they would do almost anything necessary to protect it.  Medicaid can mean life or death for people.  Is that not something that Americans should feel strongly about, should want to protect, and should want to fight for?  It is for all of these reasons and more, that together with hundreds of Americans with disabilities I went to Washington to protect Medicaid while chanting, “MY MEDICAID MATTERS, MY MEDICAID MATTERS, and MY MEDICAID MATTERS!”

 

Jamie Cooney is a first year MSW student at SUNY Albany.  She interns at the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley.