How the tax bill will hurt older Americans and people with disabilities

How the tax bill will hurt older Americans and people with disabilities

This past spring and summer saw a massive outpouring of opposition to repealing the Affordable Care Act. Together, millions of Americans, hundreds of consumer groups, and the entire healthcare industry stopped Congress in its tracks, sending Obamacare repeal down to defeat – not once, but twice.

As I wrote in August, people with disabilities played a critical role in that fight by drawing attention to the fact that the bill to repeal Obamacare would have done something even worse – it would have ended the 52 year-old Medicaid entitlement that millions of families, elderly nursing home residents, and people with disabilities depend on – starving the program by turning it into block grants with limited funds.

By blockading congress members’ offices, holding sit-ins, attending town halls, and proclaiming loudly that destroying Medicaid was tantamount to murder, people with disabilities dramatically and effectively changed the focus of the public debate over Obamacare repeal – highlighting the importance of Medicaid.

Up Next – A Stealth Attack on Medicaid, SSI and So Much More

Now, just a few months after Congress failed to repeal Obamacare and gut Medicaid, we once again face a very real, very immediate danger that this and other benefits older Americans and people with disabilities rely on will be cut. Today though, that danger lies hidden in the tax bill barreling its way through Congress.

This is especially dangerous because while everyone easily understood that the healthcare bill was about, well, healthcare, for most people it isn’t at all obvious that the tax bill is also about healthcare.

Say What?

Here’s how this works. Last month both houses of Congress voted to approve a budget framework that includes a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, more than $70 billion in cuts to SSI disability cash benefits, and $193 billion in cuts to SNAP – the food stamp program – just for starters.  To follow up on the budget vote, right now Congress is preparing to vote on a tax bill that opens the door for them to make those ghastly cuts.

The Medicare Rights Center notes that the tax bill will fund huge transfers of money to already-wealthy individuals and corporations by making drastic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. As if that was not enough, the New York Hospital Association points out that the bill will eliminate a tax deduction used by many people who need long-term care. And not only does the tax bill threaten healthcare and SSI; food, housing and heating assistance programs, and research into Alzheimer’s disease and cancer are all on the chopping block.

A Communications Challenge

Right now supporters of the tax bill are loudly proclaiming that it is all about putting more money in the pockets of middle class families, while opponents are loudly disputing that – so that’s what the media is covering. Very few news reports and therefore very little public debate so far is focused on the effects of the program cuts that are right there in the budget Congress has already approved. But as Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, told a Senate hearing last week, “There is no way to cut Medicaid by a trillion dollars without limiting seniors’ access to long-term care services.” The same is true, of course, for the long-term care services that people with disabilities depend on to live independently, outside of institutions.

The economist and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls the tax bill a “Trojan Horse” for destroying safety net programs like Medicaid and Medicare that some members of Congress – as well as a number of presidents – have wanted to take down for decades. You can watch Reich explain this complex plan in simple, easy-to-understand language in a three minute video here. It’s an excellent place to start in order to understand exactly how the budget and the tax bill are inseparably linked and how they will harm the very same people that Obamacare repeal would have harmed – and in even more ways.

Meanwhile, supporters of the tax bill are working through the night – literally – to pass it as quickly as possible. They plan to shove it through Congress by the end of next month, while people are busy with the holiday season, and before the public opposition that rose up against the healthcare bill last summer has time to resurface.

If this is to be stopped, the tax bill must be widely understood for what it is: a giant transfer of money to the wealthy that provides a backdoor approach to gutting Medicaid and other critically important programs. And once again, the people who will be most affected – aging Americans, people with disabilities, and health care industry – will have to sound the alarm, educate the public, organize, and make a lot of noise.

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