Tag Archive for medicaid

Fire Aldona Wos now

vos & mccroryIn the last few weeks, it has been revealed that NC Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Vos has hired young campaign workers and paid them more than double what an experienced teacher makes in this state.

Then this week it came out that a colleague of her husband’s has been paid more than a quarter million dollars as a consultant in just eight months.

Today, the news is that another consultant has been paid $100,000.

Talk about blatant cronyism.

This is happening while Wos wants to privatize Medicaid, which will inevitably cut money for services for people in need. Privatization is what happened to mental health services a decade ago and it caused our system to implode.

Reimbursement rates went down so no one could make a profit, providers went out of business, leaving thousands of our most vulnerable people without services.

This is what Wos wants to do with Medicaid instead of expanding it, which would cost the state nothing for three years and then just 10 percent after that.

She has lied about the reason for not expanding Medicaid, saying our Medicaid program is “broken.” Well, before the Republican General Assembly de-funded it two years ago, it was a national model.

Then she said it was because our computer system wasn’t up to the task. She didn’t mention that the state turned down millions of dollars in federal money to build the system up.

Then she said it really wasn’t her decision anyway. I replied that if she and the governor had come out strongly in favor of it the way Gov. Jan Brewer did in Arizona, we could have gotten it through. I also mentioned that the shit-eating grins on her and the governor’s faces were not the demeanor of people who were disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

She walked away from me.

So, we don’t have the money to pay teachers a decent wage, we’re too broke to help people who are unemployed through no fault of their own, our infrastructure is starting to crumble and we have to cut as many social safety net programs as we can.

But Aldona Wos can fritter away hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring friends and campaign workers.

She needs to go. Now.

Here is the letter I e-mailed to Gov. Pat McCrory. Feel free to use it as a template for your own letter to the governort:

Governor, it is time to cut your losses and fire Secretary Aldona Wos. She has violated the public trust again and again.
While Secretary Wos cries about the state Department of Health and Human Services being too broke to provide health care and other services to people in need, she pays a colleague of her husband a quarter million dollars in just eight months, pays another contractor more than $100,000 and gives jobs paying $80,000 and more to young, unqualified campaign workers.
These are not the actions of a devoted public servant; they are the actions of a woman on the take. How can you criticize people who are unemployed and then approve of Secretary Wos’s actions? How can you cut services, refuse to take federal money for an expanded Medicaid, slash funds for education, all because we’re “broke,” and allow this? It is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy.
Fire Aldona Wos now.

 

Why I go to Raleigh for Moral Mondays

This is from two weeks ago, when we had about 2,000 people. We had about the same size crowd last Monday when there was a tornado watch. We are dedicated to making change.

This is from two weeks ago, when we had about 2,000 people. We had about the same size crowd last Monday when there was a tornado watch. We are dedicated to making change.

I think it’s important to talk about Moral Mondays here,  to explain why I got involved, why I got arrested on May 13, and why I continue to go for the rallies.

First of all, let me say in response to those who say we can’t accomplish anything with these demonstrations, I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think we could make a difference, and I am willing to tolerate the vitriol of people who would discourage us because I think they are afraid of us and what we stand for.

I go because I feel a moral obligation to protest the General Assembly’s and the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Their ideological decision puts a half-million lives at risk in this state, and estimates are that at least 2,000 will die prematurely because of this decision,

Those lives matter to me. Each one of them matters. I don’t care if it is a homeless person who is addicted to drugs and alcohol. I believe each life has worth. If you don’t believe the same, please don’t call yourself pro-life in front of me.

My primary passion is health care, but when we take away unemployment compensation from more than 70,000 people, it has consequences. Most of them also lack access to health care because you can’t pay for COBRA if you don’t have any income, and most adults aren’t eligible for Medicaid here in NC.

When we de-fund schools, we rob children of the chance to rise out of poverty and provide for themselves and their families. They also will be the ones most likely to not have access to health care later on.

These issues are deeply connected to each other. Living wage impacts poverty, and all the stresses that come with it. People who have enough to live on are healthier overall because they don’t have the stresses associated with poverty.

I have visited my legislators repeatedly to educate them on the importance of access to health care and about the lower costs associated with access to care. My representative voted against Medicaid expansion. He voted to cut unemployment benefits. He supports a voter ID law that is a thinly disguised poll tax.

I am frustrated beyond words. I cannot fathom the reasoning behind barring access to health care for 500,000 people.

Our state’s computer system is their first excuse. It isn’t up to the task, they say. But then they decline to mention that we turned down federal money to upgrade the system.

When I reminded them of that, they said we have to fix Medicaid first. Well, North Carolina’s Medicaid system was a national model until its funding was slashed two years ago. Restore the funding and the system will be a model again. Instead, though, they are going to try and privatize it the way they did with the mental health system a decade ago. That “reform,” you may recall, was an unmitigated disaster.

When I explain that, they usually have a meeting they have to rush off to.

They aren’t listening, and it frustrates those of us who oppose what they’re doing. My heart breaks for people who will die because of these misguided decisions; it breaks for the families of those casualties.

Unless you have held the hand of a loved one as he or she dies unnecessarily, you can’t know the pain.

As a person of faith, I take seriously the Bible’s instruction to care for “the least of these.” And it is not just Christianity that requires this of people; it is a basic tenet of every major religion, and it is important to just about every atheist I know.

That’s why nearly 400 people have gone into the Legislature Building and been arrested. Dozens of them are clergy. Some are teachers and professors, students, old, young, black, white, Asian, hippies and lawyers.  This is a diverse crowd, and its members are passionate about justice for all North Carolinians, not just the wealthiest.

As the ones being arrested go into the building, they are cheered by a crowd of thousands. Hundreds of people move to the side of the building to await the departure of prison buses filled with people who are not afraid to speak truth to power.

When I was arrested, those cheering voices assured me I was doing the right thing. They gave me courage and hope.

I do not go to Moral Mondays for political reasons; I go for moral reasons. I go because if I do nothing, I am as much to blame as those taking the immoral actions.

I go because every life has worth.

Attacks from every direction

Here I am waiting to be introduced at HKonJ 7 last weekend in Raleigh. The turnout for the event was about 10,000.

Here I am waiting to be introduced at HKonJ 7 last weekend in Raleigh. The turnout for the event was about 10,000.

No longer content to just badmouth and vilify hardworking Americans, it seems the right has started actively trying to kill them.

In NC, the legislature has voted to deny 600,000 people access to health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, even though it would bring down billions in federal dollars and create 25,000 jobs, not to mention save lives.

This move will mean more suffering among the more than half-million people who can’t gain access to health care. We’re talking about more heart attacks and strokes, more complications from diabetes — kidney failure, blindness, limb amputations — more advanced cancers, more intractable mental illnesses, more asthma emergencies … the list goes on.

The legislature’s choice of a twisted ideology over compassion and decency will increase medical costs and people will still suffer and die unnecessarily.

And if you’ve been unlucky enough to have your job shipped overseas, that’s too bad too because the legislature has voted to overhaul unemployment insurance by slashing benefits and the amount of time people are eligible to receive them. North Carolina now has the shortest compensation time in the country — in some cases just 12 weeks.

Not to mention that when people lose their jobs they also lose their health benefits, but our legislators don’t care about that.

My inbox is full of e-mails begging me to sign one petition or another to prevent the North Carolina GOP from de-funding education, raping the environment, rigging taxes so the rich pay less and the rest of us pay more, punishing workers for wanting to make a living wage, making a naked power grab by firing everyone on state regulatory commissions …

I can’t keep up with it all, and that’s just in North Carolina.

In Washington, the GOP is still refusing to cooperate with anything the President wants to do.

They’re filibustering against Chuck Hagel’s appointment as Secretary of Defense; they’re saying they’ll block a minimum wage increase, they’re slowing down gun safety laws, and the House GOP is still trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I’m exhausted from e-mailing and calling and traveling to try and get these people to listen to reason about the Medicaid expansion, but I’m just met with a stone wall. My own representative doesn’t answer my e-mails, not does Gov. Pat McCrory.

McCrory did answer an e-mail from my friend, Eileen McMinn, though. He sent her a form e-mail asking if she would donate money to him.

They’re ignoring us, and I suppose they have reason to believe they can get away with it because we seem to be lying down and playing dead.

How many of us have e-mailed, called or snail-mailed our state representatives or governor over these issues? How about our federal representatives? Have we thanked the ones who are doing the right thing? I e-mailed Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, to thank him for voting in favor of the Violence Against Women Act.

There’s a lot at stake here. You may not think you’ll ever need Medicaid, but if your job gets shipped overseas and you get just $350 a week for 12 weeks, what then? How long can you keep making house and car payments? What if you get sick on top of all that?

We are all at risk here, and we all need to take action. Democracy is participatory. If we don’t participate — and by that I mean becoming educated about the issues and voting according to our convictions — this is what we get.

If you don’t know who your representative is in the US House, visit www.hoismyrepresentative.com.

If you don’t know who your state senators or representatives are, you can visit www.ncleg.net or call your county’s board of elections.

If you’re one of those who say, “I’m just not interested in politics,” shame on you! You’re part of the reason we’re in this mess.

 

The great over-reach and how we can fight it

wrongRepublicans in North Carolina are convinced they will hold power forever, and that it means they should take us all back to Medieval times, where they seem to prefer to live as lords.

First the NC House voted to cut unemployment compensation and make it more difficult to qualify, ensuring more North Carolina families will lose everything when they get laid off. The top weekly compensation will be just $350 a week if this becomes law.

Then the NC Senate voted to reject the expansion of Medicaid, which would bring in nearly $15 billion from the federal government to insure more than a half-million people, including those unemployed people who are about to get royally screwed. Estimates of the number of people who will not gain access to care range as high as 650,000. The Senate also voted to reject partnering with the federal government on a health benefits marketplace, which will cost even more money.

This state ranks 38th in health outcomes (cancer deaths, heart disease, low-birthweight babies, infant mortality, etc.), and we’re about to drop even lower as federal money to reimburse hospitals and other providers gets cut (the expansion of Medicaid was designed to replace this money by covering low-income people with Medicaid).

So now, more than a half-million people in this state are at risk of dying from preventable causes. We will see more advanced cancers, more heart attacks and stroke, more serious complications from diabetes (blindness, kidney failure, limb amputations), more intractable mental illness, more life-threatening, antibiotic resistant infections … And more funerals for people who shouldn’t have died.

It will cost us dearly in both money and human lives.

Now the NC Senate has voted to fire every public servant on several critical boards and commissions to they can be replaced with like-minded ideologues who will rape the environment and offer big business everything it wants. We will see less safe workplaces, more food-borne illnesses, more corruption and much, much less protection of any kind for the people of this state.

The reason the terms on these boards are staggered is to prevent them being stacked with ideologues by corrupt politicians. But a few appointments wasn’t enough for the Teapublicans in  the Senate; they want it all. They want to run everything with no opposition from anyone.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who ran as a moderate, has a chance to veto all of this, but he hasn’t indicated whether he will. He likely will sign the raid on unemployment and he has said he doesn’t think now is the right time to expand Medicaid (When IS the right time, Governor?).

I hope he sees that this power grab is unconscionable.

We need to let our legislators know how important these issues are to us. To e-mail a legislator, it’s firstname.lastname@ncleg.net (example: tim.moffitt@ncleg.net). You can go to www.ncleg.net for more contact information Their phone numbers are listed there. To contact Gov. McCrory, visit http://www.governor.state.nc.us/contact, tweet @PatMcCroryNC, call  919-733-5811 or snail-mail:

Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301

Do it now and then do it every day until the issues are resolved. If these things go through, e-mail every day to let them know they’re going to be unemployed in 2014 (or in the governor’s case, 2016).

 

Ryan? Really?

It’s a gift from the Right — Paul Ryan, the author of Kill Medicaid/Medicare/Social Security, as VP pick for Mitt Romney.

OK, first off, the Protestants aren’t going to be happy, especially those furthest to the right think neither Mormons nor Catholics are “real” Christians. There are some over there who don’t even think Methodists are real Christians.

Then there are the few moderates in the party who will bail out at the thought of a Tea Partier as VP.

And those on the far right likely are unhappy already because Mitt distanced himself from the Medicaid debacle.

We on the left are pretty pleased, of course, because the Ryan budget hasn’t been very popular and we can (and will) exploit what it would do to seniors, to people with disabilities and to people who happen to be both poor and sick.

And just as the Affordable Care Act is gaining some popularity among the millions of people it has helped already:

  • 2.5 million young adults who are on their parents’ insurance policies,
  • 5 million children with pre-existing conditions like asthma or a birth defect,
  • 14 million seniors who received help with prescription drug costs or other aspects of the new law,
  • 50,000 people with pre-existing conditions such as a history of heart disease or cancer,
  • women who no longer have to pay out-of-pocket for cancer screenings or contraception.

I’ve actually heard the word, “Obamacare” spoken with some affection, and these two are smiling, waving and promising to repeal the whole thing.

Then there’s the Ryan tax plan what gives even more money to the wealthiest while increasing taxes on the working class. This “deficit hawk” has a budget that would increase the deficit while robbing the poorest Americans of everything.

While Romney and Ryan have been trying to paint everyone who’s poor as lazy or evil, many of us know people and families who would be devastated by cuts — people like Rebecca Demmer, whose two sons both have autism and need state services. Cuts in Medicaid would affect this innocent family by taking housing and work support away from them.

Medicaid rates are so low already that many service providers refuse to work in the system, making it difficult to find care for people who depend on Medicaid.

But those people don’t matter to someone who idolizes Ayn Rand, an author with a survival-of-the-fittest philosophy. Rand’s philosophy says that people who can’t “contribute” will not survive. Tell that to Rebecca Demmer, who loves her sons and will argue that they contribute greatly to the lives of the people around them.

Some of my Republican friends are worried about this choice. They see how it looks to moderates and progressives, and they know most unaffiliated voters are pretty middle-of-the-road, and those are the voters who will decide this election.

Thanks, Mitt.

 

 

Who we gonna cut?

From my friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Matt Davies (http://www.gocomics.com/mattdavies)

I’ve been really dismayed the last week or so as people post on Facebook and Twitter how we need to cut spending, and they insist it can’t come from the “job creators.”  There’s no room for debate: we have to stop carrying the lazy, unemployed bums and others who won’t work and give breaks to the wealthiest on the off chance they’ll somehow find it in their hearts to create jobs.

Facts and history aren’t persuading these folks that we can’t keep on this way. In fact, there’s a sizeable chunk of people out there who think it would be good to default on our debt so we would have to cut programs that help people in need.

The debt ceiling wasn’t such an issue when Congress voted to raise it seven times during the George W. Bush administration. In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney said, “Debt doesn’t matter,” as he and his cronies started two wars with no idea how they would be paid for, and then cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Now, all of a sudden, debt matters. That’s because we’re running out of money from the debt THEY ran up. We have to cut spending, they say, not increase taxes.

So, who do we cut?

Medicaid is pretty much pared to the bone already. Come 2014, it’s supposed to cover all Americans who earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level; I’m hoping it still will be around then.

Already, most single adults are excluded from Medicaid. Even with Stage 3 cancer, my son Mike wasn’t eligible until he and his wife split. I was asked to write and sign a letter saying they had split and had no intention of getting back together when we thought Mike’s only option was to live with me (his best friend invited him to live with him, offering him somewhat more of a sense of independence).

People who use Medicaid often are denied the best drugs and treatments because Medicaid doesn’t cover it. If you have diabetes, you will get medication, but not the newest meds that really help control blood glucose. If you have a psychiatric illness, you won’t get the drugs that work the best, so your illness will be more difficult to stabilize.

The people served by Medicaid aren’t just “welfare mothers” and “bums” as so many Americans lucky enough to have jobs and good health believe. People with serious disabilities get services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy. Even the places they live, which offer the skilled care they need, are paid for by Medicaid. If we cut more, some of them will be placed in nursing homes with no therapy, no activities, surrounded by people with whom they have nothing in common.

OK, so do we cut unemployment compensation? Does it really keep people from looking for jobs?

Historically, no one has objected to helping people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. We give tax breaks to huge corporations when they ship jobs overseas and then criticize the people who lose their jobs as a result, plotting to punish them instead of the corporate bigwigs who took the jobs away.

So, let’s shave some dollars from the Pentagon budget. I think Halliburton and their ilk can afford to lose some revenues, especially since the’ve been allowed to wantonly rip off the American people with shoddy workmanship and overpriced, no-bid contracts for a decade now. Those billions could have fed the nation’s hungry children or fixed our crumbling national infrastructure.

Let’s cut some of the benefits we give members of Congress. No more free ride on health care. No more lifelong pensions — or jobs, for that matter. If we limit the amount of time people can spend there, maybe we can go back to citizen rule instead of a country run by corrupt corporate shills.

I’m really angry about how many Americans believe the lies they’re being fed by a bought-and-paid-for media, and how many really think it’s OK to let the Right have its way and destroy our lives and our country.

No more cuts to programs ordinary people need to get by. None. Not one cent. Tell your member of Congress today.

 

 

‘What about the children?’

That’s a question I recall hearing again and again during the 1980s and 90s as a reporter covering family issues, social justice issues and education. It came mostly from upper-middle class people in good school districts who were concerned about their children’s welfare, class size, access to computers at school and with limiting kids’ access to such horrible things as dirty words and suggestive song lyrics.

They were genuinely concerned about their own children, especially the ones who decided to run for the school board. All of them claimed they were running “for the children.” One even said, “I’m doing it for the kiddles.” I asked if she really wanted that quote to go under her photo alongside “Reason for running:”

Some ran so they could work to get their Evangelical views into the classroom. I usually recognized the buzzwords they used, such as “intellectual freedom to teach different ideas,” and of course, “intelligent design.”

One of my colleagues once said in the midst of the campaign season, “I wish just one person would be honest and tell us he’s running so he can have power over something.”

At least people wanted to be involved. Today, some school boards have vacancies they can’t fill. Schools are being attacked, as are most other institutions that help children.

While some of the nation’s wealthy seem to see public education as a form of welfare, programs that protect the welfare of children in every respect are being slashed.

Medicaid, which offers health care to the nation’s most needy, is about to be cut, compromising the health of millions of children; subsidized children’s health care for families that can’t afford insurance now has waiting lists so long it’s effectively shut down to new people in several states.

After-school programs, which keep children in a safe place until their parents can be home with them, are being defunded.

Parents are working several part-time or two full-time jobs just to make ends meet while child care subsidies are being slashed. That’s because in every city in the United States it takes at least two full-time jobs at minimum wage to make ends meet on even the most modest budget (no cable TV, no meals out …).

A few years ago, here in Western North Carolina, a working mother left her child in the car because she had no other option to care for him and she needed her job as a CNA in a nursing home to keep their small apartment. Her shifts were not the same as most child care center hours, so she had nowhere to leave him safely. She opted to leave him in the car and check on him periodically, rather than leave him home alone. The child died and the mother was villified. Most of my colleagues were outraged that a mother would endanger her 4-year-old like that.

But I remember being a single mom, struggling to pay my bills and find a safe place for my children while I worked. I had a boss who would let me bring them to the office with me if I had to work late or on Saturday. I had an upstairs neighbor who would look after my older son if he needed anything — he was a latchkey kid when he was 8 because I couldn’t afford to pay for care for both my boys and I couldn’t get a subsidy unless I quit work and went on welfare.

Today, one in five children lives in poverty, likely not getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy or the intellectual stimulation they need to overcome poverty when they get older. They are less likely to have access to a computer, or even good books. They are more likely to have health and/or behavioral problems, to drop out of school, to turn to crime and to remain poor as adults.

Even so, as we “negotiate” how to cut government spending, children’s needs once again are on the table, but not the wants of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans who control a staggering 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. Heaven forbid we ask for shared sacrifice from them or from behemouth corporations that pay little or no tax.

So, what about the children?

 

A mad dash to the right

The NC legislative session isn’t even finished yet and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. As the effects of this disastrous session begin to be felt across the state, I’m sure other North Carolinians will feel the same way.

Across the state, thousands of classroom personnel — teachers and teacher assistants, will lose their jobs, even though the Republican leadership denies it’s happening. As usual, if they say something isn’t real, then it must not be happening. That’s what you get when you live in your own little bubble where you don’t have to have compassion for anyone else.

Women who seek to end their pregnancies will have to listen to an anti-abortion lecture and wait 24 hours, even if they’re pregnant by an abusive partner who would beat the crap out of them if he found out. It’s as though we shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions about our own bodies unless the right agrees with those decisions.

The new “austerity” budget, which contains deep, deep cuts to education and health care programs, wasn’t about money, according to Rep. Tim Moffit, whose district includes Arden and Candler, “it’s about policy.”

Well, policy follows the money. Your priorities are where you put — or take away — the dollars, and it’s clear that this legislature prefers corporations to humans and right-wing “moral” values to compassion.

Medicaid will lose some of its “optional” services, such as specialized housing and other necessary services for people with severe disabilities. Instead of living in intermediate care facilities, they will be moved to nursing homes, where they won’t get the occupational, physical and speech therapy and other amenities that make their lives worth living. They’ll be warehoused.

People on Medicaid will lose their eye and hearing care. No glasses, no hearing aids.

I don’t see these things as optional, but the people in the North Carolina General Assembly do.

They have gutted environmental protections and made it harder for the state to collect taxes from corporations.

They have made it harder to vote, eliminating same-day registration, shortening early voting and requiring a photo ID from every voter. These measures affect poor and minority populations the most — those who would be most likely to vote against the right.

And if you get really pissed off and want to yell at one of these cads? Well, they’re trying to pass a law that allows them to carry guns into the legislative parking lot, so you don’t want to make them feel threatened.

But you don’t have to vote for them again. Remember this session come Election Day, and you might want to shoot an e-mail to your representative and senator to let him or her know you’ve been watching.

 

 

Midnight cowboys

The NC House met just after midnight to override Gov. Bev Perdue's budget; apparently, leaders were concerned the teachers coming to Raleigh today might be able to sway some votes.

The NC House met under cover of darkness in the wee hours of this morning to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of their disastrous, immoral budget.

It’s likely they didn’t want to wait for the light of day because today is a teacher lobbying day in Raleigh, and they didn’t have to courage to talk to these dedicated educators and then go slash their budgets. They wanted the deed to be done already. I’m sure Republican leaders wanted to be certain no one was swayed by pleas and real stories of need from teachers.

So, with the Senate poised to override the veto, it looks like this immoral budget will be what we have to live with for the next two years.

Republicans are saying their budget is the same as the one Gov. Perdue proposed, but it’s far worse, with deeper cuts to early childhood education, our about-to-be-devastated  university and community college systems and to the social network. They’re cutting $60 million from the state’s mental health system, which is so bad already it’s under investigation by the US Justice Department.

There is no rationale for these kinds of cuts. We are not broke. The only thing I can think of is that our state legislators who voted for this thing have no compassion for their fellow human beings.

I mean, if we’re so broke, why does House Majority Leader Thom Tillis have the money to offer huge raises to his staff members? Tillis gave his legal counsel, Jason Kay, a $30,000 a year salary increase to $140,000, and a 25 percent raise of $30,000, to $150,000, to his chief of staff, Charles Thomas. Half the speaker’s staff got raises.

Tillis spoke in January of “shared sacrifice,” but I guess you only have to share in the sacrifice if you’re not Thom Tillis or one of his staff.

I’ve already e-mailed my state representative, Tim Moffitt, and told him I will remember his vote come Election Day. He has reponded with this:

“I’m sorry that you feel that way.  The cuts to education amount to .05% difference compared to the Governor’s budget.  That’s after an explosive growth of over 250% in the last 14 years with barely a move in the overall achievement levels of our children.  Sadly, money is not the issue as it is in most things, it’s policy.”

He is wrong, of course. Early childhood education programs were starting to make a difference; they are the only way children in poverty can catch up to their wealthier peers.

And education is not the only part of this budget that is immoral. The budget shreds what was left of the social safety net, especially for people who have mental illnesses and others who depend on Medicaid.  It cuts $60 million out of the budget for our state’s mental health system, which already is in such bad shape it’s being investigated by the US Justice Department. Please, if your representative voted for this budget, let him or her know how you feel, and let them know we’re coming for them in 2012.

The immorality of ‘optional’ care

I read in the newspaper this morning that the NC Senate is considering cutting “optional” Medicaid services as the costs rise.

Sounds reasonable, right? That’s until you hear what’s optional. The place where my friend Stacie and her best friend, Ashley, live is optional.

That’s Stacie in the photo, showing off her beautiful smile. I met her and Ashely five or so years ago when they went to their prom. Although both young women are non-verbal, they have effective ways of communicating with each other and their caregivers. When Stacie thought she was running late for her hair appointment the day of the prom, she tugged on my sleeve, pointed to her watch and touched her hair. I promised her the hairdresser would wait for her.

Stacie and Ashley have lived together since they were small children; they’re in their mid-20s now, living at one of three residences at the Irene Wortham Center. Their days are filled with activities and caring people, and they are as close as any two sisters — there’s even a little rivalry between them.

But the NC Senate believes these residences and the services they render are “optional.” Extra. Non-essential. If the funding is cut off, Stacie and Ashley don’t have family who can take them in and care for them. They likely will land in separate nursing homes where there is little emotional or physical stimulation.

Liz Huesemann, the executive director of the Irene Wortham Center, doesn’t think she will be able to get enough money to continue caring for these two young women — and 22 other people who are helpless to decide their own fate.

“I’ll tell you what will happen,” Huesemann said. “They’ll wither away and die. They’ll just die.”

Also optional will be eye care and dental care for adults, and God only knows what else. The story in the newspaper didn’t go into much detail. Maybe that’s because the people in the NC Senate know people would be upset to know what’s about to happen to people with serious disabilities.

Or maybe they figure most people really don’t care what happens to less-than-perfect human beings. Historically, their needs have been ignored. They were warehoused in places like Wrentham State School in Massachusetts and Letchworth Village in New York, and they died very young.

Then in the 1960s and 1970s, advocates demanded humane treatment, and things improved. Warehouses became homes, with people grouped in smaller numbers, and even the most profoundly disabled people receiving stimulation and therapy.

We’re about to take a huge step back in time. Don’t think for a moment people with disabilities don’t understand when no value is placed on their lives. Stacie and Ashley know people care about them. They know someone will help them when they need it.

I can’t imagine placing them in a nursing home that doesn’t have the facilities or the staff to care for them properly.

It matters very much to me. If it matters to you, call your state senator in Raleigh and tell him or her you’re watching.

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