Guest Column: Stand against the deep cuts proposed to Medicaid

Published 10:19 pm Monday, July 17, 2017

My Point of View, By Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Medicaid enjoys broad popular support. As the proposed Republican legislation to replace Obamacare threatens to make deep cuts in the program, I want to share one example of what Medicaid has meant to my family.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

My uncle LeRoy was a working man who lived in Wyoming. He was a trucker, mechanic and farmer. He had an independent spirit and only kept sporadic contact with his six siblings in Minnesota.

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In his 60s he developed memory problems, exacerbated by time invested on a bar stool. One night he got picked up for looking in someone else’s windows.

A tall, scrawny man in a cowboy hat peeking in windows would rightly cause alarm, and I hope he didn’t frighten anybody. His behavior, though, probably didn’t carry criminal intent. He was most likely lost and trying to find his home.

Police brought him to the county jail, where he spent the next six months — not because he faced court proceedings but because they held him “for his own protection.” That is what passed for temporary care.

A county employee finally tracked down my dad, and my parents brought LeRoy back to Minnesota. He didn’t have teeth and had lost weight. They took care of him for six weeks, but it became clear that the arrangement was unsustainable. Restlessness was one of his inborn traits, not just a tendency of Alzheimer’s, and he needed constant supervision.

Fortunately he was already 65, and my parents signed him up for the benefits he was eligible for. He had few assets, and Medicaid covered most of his memory care bills. He was content in his new home where he was free to pace the hallways in his cowboy boots and hat. Later he moved to a nursing home where my sister worked and my niece volunteered.

LeRoy died peacefully at age 68, no longer recognizing his younger brother who had frequently stopped to visit and play checkers with him. My dad arranged for him to be buried at Camp Ripley with military honors, and he stops to see LeRoy’s resting place from time to time.

What would have happened to LeRoy if he hadn’t had next of kin? My mom asked this question of the social worker she spoke to in Wyoming. She replied that Wyoming doesn’t have all of Minnesota’s “social amenities” and that LeRoy probably would have been “sent to a mental institution.”

He could have been one more Vietnam veteran who slipped through the cracks, but he got the dignity he deserved, even as he went downhill — not just because he had worked hard and served his country in a foreign war, but because he was a human being.

Medicaid is a popular program partly because it’s a lifeline to health care for many, including 1.7 million other veterans. In perhaps one of the greatest political ironies at present, Medicaid expansion has had an especially positive impact on rural communities, even though rural populations voted disproportionately in favor of the same Republican leaders (including President Trump) who are now threatening to take away those improvements.

According to research from Georgetown University and the University of North Carolina, those who live in rural areas are more likely to be directly impacted by increases or reductions in Medicaid funding. Deep cuts will cause deeper hardships in our small communities than in cities.

Trump promised in early January that his plan would provide “health care that is far less expensive and far better” than Obamacare. I hope people remember this pledge, the same way many can still recite Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” promise.

For all its shortcomings, Obamacare wasn’t a “disaster” when Obama left office. At the end of June, the Department of Health and Human Services under Secretary Tom Price issued a report that the key provisions of Obamacare are working as intended, based on data through the end of 2016.

The report for 2017 will likely look different. Upon taking office, President Trump signed an executive order that directs agencies to stop supporting parts of Obamacare. For example, the IRS is not fully enforcing the individual mandate that brings healthy people into the insurance market and reduces costs for everybody else. The justice department stopped fighting a lawsuit from Congress that challenged payments of subsidies to insurance companies that help keep down the premiums of high-risk insurance.

This is deliberate sabotage of a system that has made true strides in insuring more Americans. Even despite that, insurance markets showed improvement for the first quarter of 2017. I’m grateful for Sens. Klobuchar and Franken for standing against deep cuts to Medicaid in the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act. I hope enough Republican senators decide it’s in their constituents’ best interests to do the same.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.