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Op-Ed: Medicaid Cuts Would Devastate People with Lifelong Disabilities in NJ

Medicaid provides the resources for people with disabilities to live independently, with strong, ongoing supports, to ensure the best possible life for every person

Imagine losing your home, job, and your best friend. Now imagine what would happen if you lost all three, at the same time.

Throw in the loss of healthcare for your specialized needs, and it all quickly becomes your worst nightmare.

For people with disabilities, under the Medicaid plan proposed in Congress, this nightmare is fast becoming reality — unless we stand up now.

Medicaid is everywhere, yet often invisible. However, these are the facts:

Medicaid provides care and services to more than 74 million Americans, including 1.7 million people in New Jersey. This critical government program enables individuals from all backgrounds to meet with their doctors, pay for medicine, and live well. What many do not grasp is how critical Medicaid is for people with disabilities — not just in the doctor’s office, but in every aspect of their lives.

Medicaid funds Direct Support Professionals who offer constant care to people with dire needs. Medicaid funds group homes, so people don’t live in isolation or an institution. Medicaid supports employment programs, so people can have productive and meaningful lives. Medicaid supports senior programs and vital services, so people can age with dignity. The list goes on and on.

But that is all in danger, as federal lawmakers redirect priorities. The healthcare bills currently making their way through Congress, along with the president’s proposed budget, would each slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid, the nation’s largest insurer. If some lawmakers have their way, Medicaid would lose more than $1.4 trillion in funding, with devastating effects in every town in America.

Even the smallest funding cut would likely hurt you or someone you love. But the reduction proposed in Washington could obliterate the entire system.

Few have more to lose than people with disabilities. Half of Medicaid’s annual spending goes toward people with disabilities and senior citizens. In New Jersey, more than 327,000 people with disabilities rely on Medicaid as their only safety net.

It helps people beginning at birth, with healthcare and early intervention programs. In schools and at home, it supports special education programs — including both the equipment and the professionals who help these children thrive. Medicaid reimburses more than $4 billion each year to school districts across the country.

When young people with disabilities graduate, they rely on Medicaid more than ever. Aides and support services enable them to hold jobs and be as healthy as possible. They can attend social functions and continue their studies, if they choose. They know transportation is available.

And their aging parents know their children have a shot. Without Medicaid, loved ones of people with disabilities would face profound financial and emotional challenges. Some would be forced to reduce their workload and delay retirement to provide continual care and even with those sacrifices there would still be substantial gaps. Many would watch helplessly as their children or siblings lose their sense of purpose.

Others would need to bring their adult children back home. Medicaid now provides the resources for many people with disabilities to live independently, with strong, ongoing supports, to ensure the best possible life for every person.

Yet, even with Medicaid’s current $545 billion in annual spending, housing wait lists for people with disabilities span years, if not decades, in New Jersey and much of the country. If Medicaid were cut, this sort of housing would become a memory.

Instead, large-scale institutions could make a comeback. That would be unconscionable. Research shows that most people with disabilities live far better as active members of the broader community.

There is no justification to set society back more than 52 years — to the time before Medicaid. We built a world in which we fight for people with disabilities to live happily, safely, and honorably. Tax breaks for the wealthy and the myth that Medicaid is for the lazy must not undo that progress.

To keep Medicaid alive, speak out.

The New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities is collecting testimonials about how these cuts would affect you and your family, to be sent to our elected representatives. Email us at njcdd@njcdd.org to get involved.

Stephanie A. Pratico is the chair of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.

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