For Diane Kearns, the current debate over health care reform comes down to this: “Medicaid saved Dean’s life.” Dean is her son, she explained to several hundred people at a town hall meeting in Austin this weekend. He has cerebral palsy, visual impairment and seizure disorder.
Medicaid pays for Dean’s seizure medication, which would otherwise cost Kearns almost $900 a month. It also pays for nine months each year of critical therapy that her private insurance doesn’t cover. Kearns is “deathly afraid” of what will happen to Dean if Medicaid is cut under the Republican health care plan currently in limbo in the U.S. Senate.
Kearns was one of about a dozen people who spoke at a forum hosted by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, a liberal Democrat from Austin. Doggett probably doesn’t need convincing but the delay in a Senate vote has given opponents an opportunity to mount more resistance to the legislation.
Doggett billed the event as a Medicaid town hall. Under the controversial GOP proposal, the public health insurance program faces $772 billion in cuts over 10 years. The bill would leave 15 million fewer people enrolled in Medicaid by 2026 compared to current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“Secrecy and speed are the hallmarks of this year’s attempt to take health care from millions of our neighbors,” said Doggett, who called the legislation a “tax bill masquerading as a health care bill.”
About three-quarters of the 4.5 million Texans enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are kids, while the remaining beneficiaries are primarily pregnant women, seniors and people with disabilities. Medicaid covers more than half of all births in Texas, which has the highest uninsured rate in the United States.
Republican Senate leadership insists the bill would make Medicaid more sustainable and give states more control, without cutting care. “Only in Washington, D.C., can you spend more money year after year and be accused of cutting,” said U.S. Senator John Cornyn on the floor Monday. Funding for the program would still increase, Republicans argue, but at a much slower growth rate than current law, and without the open-ended funding structure that pays for any eligible beneficiaries.
The new version of the Senate bill released last week makes a few changes to the individual market but maintains the drastic Medicaid cuts, despite the concerns of several moderate Republicans whose support is necessary for passage. The proposal would end Medicaid expansion, which Texas rejected, and it would limit the amount of funding the federal government will give states for their Medicaid programs.
“This is not how we take care of each other in Texas,” Kearns said to applause.