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Battles in Boston and D.C. to Protect Health Coverage

Bay Staters with disabilities are on the front lines this week in battles to preserve critical health coverage both in Massachusetts and Congress. (Boston Center for Independent Living)
Bay Staters with disabilities are on the front lines this week in battles to preserve critical health coverage both in Massachusetts and Congress. (Boston Center for Independent Living)
July 27, 2017

BOSTON – Bay Staters with disabilities are fighting battles on two fronts this week, to protest possible budget cuts and protect critical health coverage, both in Massachusetts and in D.C.

The Trump administration has proposed steep cuts to Medicaid and opened the door for states to cut so-called "optional services" that can be critical lifelines for people with disabilities.

Boston Center for Independent Living Director Bill Henning was among several people arrested by Capitol Police in D.C. Wednesday as they protested the U.S. Senate vote to move forward on plans to repeal or replace Obamacare.

"Eliminating pre-existing conditions has been floated; it's kind of like a turkey shoot right now, amendments flying all over the place in the Senate," he says. "Who knows what kind of damage could get snuck in? People with disabilities depend on Medicaid."

As the Senate engages in 20 hours of debate, GOP leadership seems to be settling on a so-called "skinny repeal," to eliminate a handful of Affordable Care Act provisions, such as the individual and employer mandates.

On the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people were also at the State House Tuesday to take a stand against Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed overhaul of MassHealth.

Dennis Heaphy, a policy analyst at the Disability Policy Consortium, says the proposal would give Baker the authority to charge "outrageous" premiums and deductibles, and cutting some services.

"These optional services are the services that people with really complex disabilities rely on to stay out of nursing homes," says Heaphy. "Prescription drugs, physical therapy, occupational therapy, prosthetics, optometry care, eyeglasses, chiropractors and personal-care attendant services."

State officials testified that MassHealth must be put on a more sustainable financial path and warn that the state needs to act quickly. But Heaphy says lawmakers seemed to get the message that these cuts are a step too far. The Baker administration has argued the cuts would only affect adults without disabilities - but Heaphy says a significant proportion of MassHealth members have physical or mental-health limitations.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA