A little rain Monday didn't stop people who fear losing their medical benefits from attending a rally at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building.

With Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. calling the Legislature into special session this week due to a budget shortfall, advocates for low-income residents worry that health-care programs will be hit at a time when struggling Utahns need them most.

"The people I know are very scared they will get dental benefits cut," said Bill Tibbitts of the Crossroads Urban Center.

The approximately 15 people who attended the demonstration shouted "health care first, before we get worse."

They signed a letter addressed to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asking him to help pass legislation to temporarily increase federal Medicaid spending to avoid health-care cuts similar to those in 2002 which removed dental benefits for a period of time.

"If you can find $700 billion to bail out banks, you can find a little for us," Tibbitts said.

Disabled Rights Action Committee member Frank Wulle said a loss of dental benefits would result in more visits to the emergency room for infections and other problems, costing more in the long run. He said lack of dental care may cause poor oral hygiene, thus reducing already bleak employment prospects for disabled people.

Finding money to bridge the shortage is not possible for some Medicaid recipients, which angers one of the rallygoers.

"Low-income people should not be the first to get cut," Leon Johnson said.

Darla Ball, who takes anti-seizure medication for epilepsy, fears reducing Medicaid will cut into her meager disability check.

"We're going to get hurt, and hurt bad," Ball said. She is afraid she will have to sacrifice groceries to pay for her medication.

Stevie Edwards, who is wheelchair bound and on disability, would have to cut back if he lost medical benefits. He said to save money he would have to reuse his catheters, which could have detrimental health effects.

"That would cause urinary tract infections," he said.

Though she will not be personally hurt by the cuts, Margo Markowski said she came to the rally in support of those who might suffer.

"I'd rather pay more taxes to equalize things," she said.

LouAnne Stevenson of the Crossroads Urban Center said the group sentiment is "to pay the money now to avoid higher costs in the future". She said that denying some Medicaid services would prompt people to use more costly ambulance services and emergency rooms for basic care.

"(Government) needs to invest in the people. A lot of spending is on pork barrel anyway," she said. "It's not a matter of money, it's a matter of priorities."


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com