Two days ago an opinion piece in The New York Times celebrated “The Americans who Saved Healthcare,” including citizens who attended town halls, community organizers, healthcare experts and elected officials. David Leonhardt’s feel-good piece captured a moment worth celebrating and as someone who has been deeply engaged in this battle, I enjoyed it. Still, I was a bit disappointed that the outsized contributions of people with disabilities went unmentioned – as so often is the case.
Here’s the thing. From the moment the bill to repeal Obamacare was introduced in Congress last March, virtually all news coverage of how the bill would affect Medicaid focused on whether about 10 million people who gained insurance under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would lose their insurance.
This would, of course, have been devastating for those 10 million people. It also would have harmed taxpayers and the economy overall. But the bill would have done something much, much worse. In ending the 52 year-old Medicaid entitlement, Congress would have ended guaranteed benefits that more than 60 million additional people depend on, many of them children, elderly nursing home residents, and people with disabilities.
Somehow, back in the spring, this message simply was not getting out. Then June rolled around and everything changed. Suddenly people with disabilities were everywhere, blockading congress members’ offices, holding sit-ins, getting arrested and carted off to jail, and proclaiming that destroying Medicaid was tantamount to murder.
These activists, many in wheelchairs, were fearless, media savvy, and impossible to ignore. Their actions generated dozens of news stories, including this segment from Rachael Maddow, which explained in detail how Medicaid is the country’s largest and most important insurance program – by far.
In the days following these first dramatic protests by people with disabilities, dozens of major news outlets took a deeper dive into Medicaid, uncovering and highlighting how millions of “solidly middle class” Americans depend on the program and how virtually the entire medical establishment was opposed to dismantling it.
I would argue that this summer saw a national awakening of Medicaid’s importance to almost all Americans, with people with disabilities leading the way. In fact, Maddow referred to these activists as the “point of the spear.”
ICS members were among those taking action, calling and visiting members of Congress. ICS Member Michelle Jones appeared on NY1 to describe the importance of the program; other members made videos to share with elected officials and the public at large. They attended town halls, wrote letters, and followed every twist and turn of the debate.
Today, no one knows where Congress is going on healthcare. Since the latest attempt to repeal Obamacare failed last week, bi-partisan groups in the House and Senate have announced plans to work together to stabilize insurance markets and make incremental changes to the law.
As Congress turns its attention to tax reform, promising to pass a bill this fall, continued vigilance is essential to protect not only Medicaid, but also Medicare and Social Security – all of which some members of Congress want to cut in order to fund tax cuts for well-off Americans.
Wherever this is going, perhaps the most important difference between now and last spring, is that our elected officials are now wholly on notice that millions and millions of Americans – including highly engaged members of the disability rights community – are following and will be commenting on their every move. Let’s all make sure we stay tuned.