Like thousands of Arizonans, I am a person with a disability. I was born with muscular dystrophy, I use a power wheelchair for mobility, and a ventilator to breathe. I am dependent on caregivers. Even with such a severe disability, I live a full life. I am an attorney who works on behalf of others with disabilities, I am a board member at a local disability advocacy organization called Ability 360, and I have an active social life.
The only reason I am able to have such a full life is Medicaid. Medicaid provides vital services to people with disabilities through a state-federal partnership that finances coverage for those who qualify. The program has successfully provided care to the most vulnerable Americans for the past 50 years.
Medicaid provides me and 45,000 other Arizonans with the home and community-based services we need to remain in our homes, stay out of institutions, and contribute to our communities. These services are not available through Medicare or private insurance. Medicaid provides me with the caregivers I need to get out of bed in the morning, use the restroom, shower, dress, and eat. Medicaid provides me with my ventilator and the other respiratory equipment I need to be able to breathe, and the power wheelchair I need to get around.
I am not exaggerating when I say that my life depends on Medicaid. I had a respiratory failure in 2009 and I would have died without Medicaid. If I no longer have access to the ventilator that Medicaid provides, I will most certainly die. If I no longer have access to caregivers to feed me and care for me, I will most certainly die.
The cuts and caps to Medicaid proposed by the Republicans in Congress would place me and thousands of other disabled Arizonans at risk of losing our home and community-based services, and at risk of being institutionalized. Rather than reimburse the state for the actual costs of care for people like me, the GOP’s plan would cap federal funding at a fixed level, leaving Arizona on the hook for the difference.
Under the House bill caps, Arizona’s people with disabilities, children and seniors would lose $19 billion of federal Medicaid funding over ten years. The Senate bill has even deeper cuts, which will increase further in future decades. The strain on the budget would force Arizona to raise taxes, to divert state funds from schools, transportation, and public safety, or – more likely – to drastically reduce Medicaid services.
Because nursing home care is a mandatory service under Medicaid, while home and community-based services are optional, I am terrified that the proposed cuts would cause Arizona to eliminate my home and community-based services. Without services, I would be forced to live in an institution. I would no longer be able to live in my family home. I would no longer be able to work. I would lose all social interaction and participation in my community. I would lose my freedom.
Senator Jeff Flake’s vote is critical. I am urging Senator Flake to think about the freedom and well-being of disabled Arizonans and to oppose the Senate health care bill and any bill that cuts Medicaid funding.
— Asim Dietrich is a disability rights attorney in Phoenix.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.