TWIN FALLS — Jay Overman wishes his lawmakers had to live like him.
“I just think it’s not fair that they’re taking all this away from us,” he said. “I just don’t think that they care about people with disabilities.”
Overman, who lives in Kimberly and works cleaning hotel rooms, lost his Medicaid and Medicare three months ago because he made too much money. This means he hasn’t been able to get the medication he needs for a mental health problem.
“If I don’t have my lithium, my mind goes a million miles an hour,” he said.
Friday morning, Overman and about 100 others, many of them people with disabilities who would be affected by cuts to Medicaid, rallied at Monroe Street and Falls Avenue and then marched down to U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s office, a block away on Falls across from the College of Southern Idaho. Friday’s protest was one of many taking place around the country urging senators to vote against the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate’s bill to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans opposed President Barack Obama’s health care bill since before it passed, and with Donald Trump now the president, repealing it is within reach. A different repeal bill passed the House in May. Both the House and Senate bills would made major changes to the current system, including repealing the individual and employer mandates and taxes on the rich that are in the ACA and rolling back Medicaid expansion.
The Senate bill, which was released on Thursday and may come to the floor next week, would make fewer changes than the House one to the subsidies people use to buy insurance on the state exchanges, and another major difference is that people who fall into the “Medicaid gap” in states like Idaho that didn’t expand Medicaid would, under the Senate proposal, now qualify for subsidies.
However — and this was the focus of the protesters Friday — it would also make deeper long-term cuts to Medicaid by sending states a fixed amount per enrollee rather than the current open-ended program and, after 2025, tying funding growth to inflation rather than medical costs. It could also lead to fewer plans covering mental health and other services by letting states opt out of the ACA’s requirement that all plans must cover certain “essential health benefits.”
State Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who drove down to emcee the rally, said a third of children in Twin Falls County are covered by Medicaid. The cuts, she said, will affect someone you know.
“It’s a potential death sentence for millions of Americans who will be kicked off health care plans and Medicaid and have nowhere else to turn,” she said of the bill. “It is a tax cut bill for the wealthiest corporations and wealthiest Americans to the tune of $592 billion dollars.”
Rick Huber, of Rupert, an advocate for the mentally ill who was diagnosed with a mental illness in college, said many rural communities rely heavily on Medicaid.
“Everyone thinks this is happening to somebody else, (that) it’s just the poor lazy people who are on Medicaid,” he said. “It affects everyone.”
Ted Roy, a Twin Falls man who is in a wheelchair, said Medicaid has made everything he has accomplished possible, allowing him to live independently by paying for his in-home caregiver.
“I would rather see our representatives work with us to make the Affordable Care Act better rather than just going this route of deeply cutting and abolishing Medicaid as an alternative,” he said.
The bill’s chances of passage seem uncertain — the Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and as of Friday five Republican senators have said publicly they may vote “No.”
Crapo said in a statement he would be reviewing the bill but that it represents “a promising step toward maintaining affordable care.” He said it wouldn’t change Medicare, still lets people stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26 and keeps protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This last point is disputed — the Senate bill does require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, but critics fear letting states opt out of coverage for “essential health benefits” could weaken this.
Crapo noted that it would extend subsidies to buy insurance to more of the working poor, and said the Medicaid cuts would put the program “on a sustainable fiscal path to ensure this necessary safety-net program can continue to serve our most vulnerable patients.”
“Insurers are dropping out of the exchanges around the country,” Crapo’s statement said. “The Senate bill immediately stabilizes the insurance market to protect the more than 100,000 Idahoans who purchase their health insurance on the exchange. The bill repeals the burdensome Obamacare mandates, including the individual and employer mandate. Finally, the Senate proposal repeals the taxes which have resulted in higher premiums and health care costs while stunting economic growth.”
Kaylin Minton, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, said the bill is a “working draft” still being discussed.
“Since Sen. Risch is currently reading and studying the bill to fully understand it, a comment at this time would be premature,” she said.