In Sen. Hatch’s June 23 op-ed, he touts the U.S. Senate’s health care bill. We agree with him that the Senate made a powerful statement. The statement we heard is that billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of Utahns. We also agree with the senator that increasing premiums and unaffordable care should not be the standard for health care in this country. However, this bill does little to reduce premiums and nothing to reduce the actual cost of care, takes away care from millions of Americans and makes it unaffordable for many more.
The senator asserts that he has “insulated” children with disabilities from approximately $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid. If these cuts aren’t devastating, why must children be protected? Additionally, due to Medicaid’s strict definition of disability, this provision, unfortunately, will likely exempt relatively few children from the harsh cuts. Moreover, with significantly reduced resources overall, Utah could have difficulty covering even this small group. Finally, the exemption only offers a temporary reprieve, as these children will grow to become adults who will no longer be protected by the senator.
He further claims that allowing Medicaid to be used for limited psychiatric institutionalization is good policy. This is an odd statement from a leading co-sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act to make the day after the 18th anniversary of Olmstead v. L.C. This landmark Supreme Court decision ensured the right of people with disabilities to be free from institutional segregation and to live in the community. Sadly, we’ve never fully realized this vision because there has never been adequate funding for community-based treatment. The bill gives up on this vision once and for all by slashing Medicaid so deeply and allowing funds to be used for institutionalization. The Senate’s bill is a first step in returning to the dark days of warehousing people with disabilities.
Finally, Sen. Hatch argues that we have been debating health care for nearly a decade. However, there has been no debate about the consequences of decimating Medicaid. We would welcome this debate, as long as it is truly focused on how to lower cost and improve the quality of health care for all Utahns.
Attorney with Disability Law Center
Salt Lake City