Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Putting a Face on Medicaid

By Sue Hetrick

Open the newspaper any morning and one story is at the top: Leaders in Washington are negotiating a deal to reduce our nation’s debt and balance the budget. Trillions of dollars and thousands of laws and programs are at stake. While the public looks on, some of the most influential people in our country go back and forth with proposals: President Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; House Speaker John Boehner; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid …. .
And Sue, Micah and Nick Hetrick.

No, we aren’t members of Congress. Nor are we cabinet secretaries or big-time lobbyists. We’re an Ohio family -- I’m the proud mother of Micah, 22, and Nick, 27. Along with representatives of the American Association of People with Disabilities and United Cerebral Palsy, we traveled to Washington this week to show the human face of the policies now under consideration. Our mission was to share our family’s story with officials in the White House and on Capitol Hill in order to protect Medicaid. This program, which has enabled our family to lead a fulfilling, healthy life, is on the chopping block. My family has something to say about that.

Micah was born with Down syndrome. Throughout his life, he’s faced challenges that many young people can’t imagine, including heart surgery when he was 5 months old. He’s a fine young man who has always worked hard to reach his potential. He’s a high school graduate who works two volunteer jobs and is looking for paid work. An enthusiastic reader, he’s making his way through C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

I work full-time. At the end of a workday, I return home to find him preparing dinner with the aide provided to us through Medicaid. Micah cannot be home alone for a long stretch, and he needs help with transportation, his health care and skills like preparing dinner. If he didn’t have an aide, he wouldn’t be contributing as a volunteer and he couldn’t be searching for a job.
Without someone to be with Micah during the day, I could not work. I’d have to be there to support Micah. I would be on public assistance myself—not supporting our family and paying taxes. I have a master’s degree and a strong commitment to support my family and serve my community. Eliminating the benefit my family uses would mean my potential—and Micah’s – would go entirely to waste.

As the debt negotiations in Washington progress, potential cuts to Medicaid have come into play. Implementing them would harm people with disabilities and their families—who are already under-served. Our family is fortunate to have an Individual “Option Waiver” through Medicaid, which provides the services we use to keep our household running smoothly (and keep me at work). As I write this, there are more than 27,000 people on the wait list for this program in Ohio. They were not in the room during our meetings, but their stories need to be heard too.

I’m proud of both of my sons, Micah and Nick. Both have worked hard throughout their lives. Nick, who is 27, just received his PhD; Micah recently received his high school diploma. I love them both, and think I’ve given them the start in life they need to become the best people they can be. Like any mother, I love them equally. But without Medicaid, one of them could not live the productive, fulfilling life he deserves. Without Medicaid, neither could I.

Nick is married and expecting his first child. We have the highest hopes for his baby. Everyone should enter this world with the same chance in life. I fear that Washington could take this country in the wrong direction, chipping away at a resource that helps thousands of families like mine—one that keeps people at work and promotes self-sufficiency.

That’s the message I brought to Washington this week. Our elected leaders need to hear all of our voices. There are steps that can be taken without cutting off this lifeline to people who really need it. I hope my fellow Ohioans will stand up for those with disabilities, parents and hard-working families all of whom are the face of Medicaid.
Hetrick is Public Policy Director for the Ability Center of Greater Toledo.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the American Forum. 7/11