Protestors Rally to Keep Medicaid Services

A protestor holds a sign expressing the sentiments of the gathering on Sept. 21. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

A protestor at a Sept. 21 rally against potential cuts to federal health care programs. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Seniors and people with disabilities rallied outside of Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago this week, chanting “We will not be silent,” in an attempt to block cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

The protestors were responding to on-going negotiations by the congressional “Super-Committee,” which is seeking ways to reduce the federal deficit, and may propose cuts to existing federal government programs.

The protestors gathered on Sept. 21 represented diverse organizations around the city and demanded that Illinois’ U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) “expand the use of home and community-based services; de-medicalize community services; expand consumer directed service options; reorganize Medicaid services to eliminate wasteful bureaucracy; and defend Social Security.”

The protest was organized by ADAPT and the Taskforce for Attendant Services, an advocacy group of Access Living, which is an organization for people with disabilities. The event was held “in solidarity” with a national protest happening in Washington D.C. and other protests throughout the country, according to Tom Wilson, an organizer with Access Living.

Personal Testimonies

People with various physical and mental disabilities shared personal testimonies of how they benefited from the Medicaid and Medicare health care programs, and how they would be greatly affected if the services they receive were cut.

Dr. Ayo Maat argues against cuts to federal health care programs. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Ayo Maat, chief executive officer of Independent Movement of Paratransit Riders for Unity, Vehicles and Equality (IMPRUVE), called over the bullhorn, “We’re real people, with real choices, with real health. People with disabilities do need help. We not only need help with home health care, we need help with these twisted minds of politicians who have wealth and who don’t use it but cut our benefits.”

Maat, who uses a wheelchair, receives Medicaid and said that people of all walks of life, of all races and cultures also use the program. Maat told Residents’ Journal after the event that Medicaid is essential to every aspect of human health: “They want us to put up with cuts to Medicaid when we need dental care, we need foot care,” Maat said. “They think that they can take our lives and cut it up. Slice it up and put us in nursing homes wherever they think we should go….If they cut us any more, we will not only be in nursing homes. We’ll be in cemeteries, or we’ll be in crematoriums.”

Mary Denton protests against potential cuts to federal health care programs. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

Mary Denton, a member of the Service Employees International Union, said she has a 34-year-old paraplegic son living independently in Ohio who was shot in his early twenties. Denton told RJ that he would not only lose his independence if his Medicare assistance was cut but would also lose his rehabilitation and transportation services as well as his ability to pay for his medication and health care products. Denton added that “health care workers won’t have a job” if Medicare is cut.

Gabby Carroll, a woman with cerebral palsy and mild retardation representing Access Living and ADAPT, told RJ that she worried she wouldn’t remain in her Bernice Group Home in Portage Park if her Medicaid assistance was cut.
“I won’t be able to live in the group home I live in,” Carroll said. “I won’t be able to have the funds I need.”

Bartholomew E. Thomas, a Medicaid recipient and Vietnam veteran, told RJ that his monthly income is $694 and that he would have to go to John Stroger Hospital for free services if cuts were made to the Medicaid program.

“I am a veteran, I do have my Veteran card, but then [Medicaid] helps with that too,” Thomas said.

Thomas was a member of the delegation that went to speak with Kirk’s Chief in Staff Eric Elk to discuss the potential cuts. Thomas reported back that “The senator is very much interested in helping this and that they are going to the ‘Super Committee’ and recommend for no cuts.”

John Jansa, the program director at Progress for Independent Living in Forest Park, IL, said the meeting with Elk lasted 20 minutes in which they encouraged the senator “to avoid the temptation to just defer spending to institutions” as an alternative to Medicaid. “There is no alternative to community- and home-based services.

“If we get wind that there are cuts on the table, we will organize more protests like this, more actions like this, and it will be larger and stronger. And we will do what we can to get the point across that cuts to Medicaid is not acceptable,” Jansa added.

Michael Brennan from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus cited three national public opinion polls taken in 2011 which found that most Americans oppose cutting Medicaid.

The event ended with the old spiritual song “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” and the protestors encouraging all who cared to call the 12 super committeemen “and tell them to not cut Medicaid and Medicare.”

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