Threats to Medicaid lead to sit-in

About 25 members of the disability-rights group ADAPT were arrested and charged with trespassing after a sit-in at the Monroe County Republican Committee’s headquarters on State Street last week.

The group asked county Republicans to go on record opposing any health-care legislation that caps or cuts federal Medicaid funding.

About 40 people took part in the sit-in, said ADAPT organizer Stephanie Woodward. A representative of the county Republican Party asked the demonstrators to leave, and they said they wouldn’t until the party responded to them, Woodward said.

The arrests came at the request of a county GOP representative, according to Woodward. They started about 4 hours after the sit-in began, and the process was negotiated between ADAPT leaders and police officers, according to Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli. Police escorted the protesters to the Center for Disability Rights’ offices less than a block away from GOP headquarters, where they were booked.

The county Republican Party issued no statement afterward, and a party representative said the next day that no officials were available for comment.

Senate Republicans’ recently released health-care bill would severely limit future Medicaid spending. It’s basically a cut compared to the current funding approach, which includes money for states that expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act.

The Congressional Budget Office has released a pair of analyses on the Senate bill. It projects that the GOP plan would result in a $770 billion difference – 26 percent – in funding from 2018 to 2026. The CBO also estimates that 20 years out, the plan would result in 35 percent less funding for Medicaid.

The Senate bill – and the harsher House legislation – has been the subject of dozens of protests since Republican leaders introduced it on June 22. Some Rochester-area disability rights activists were arrested during a protest that day at the Senate; images and video of police pulling Woodward from her pink and black wheelchair circulated across major news sites.

Disability rights groups have continued protesting the legislation, taking over several Republican senators’ offices. A day after their sit-in at county GOP headquarters, some protestors stood outside of the building along State Street, holding banners denouncing Medicaid cuts.

Medicaid is already underfunded, ADAPT member Nate Baldo said outside of the Rochester demonstration the day of the sit-in. And billions of dollars’ worth of cuts mean that some people with disabilities may lose their coverage for assisted living services.

People with disabilities are unable to change their situation, and if they can’t afford assisted living, they’ll be forced into institutions, Baldo said. It should be everyone’s civil right to live where they want, and people shouldn’t be forced out of their homes, he said.

“These cuts would be devastating,” Baldo said.

Kenyatta DeCosta, a Center for Disability Rights volunteer who was part of the sit-in, uses a motorized wheelchair and receives at-home and community-based services. Medicaid isn’t required to cover those services, but it is required to cover nursing home costs for people with disabilities who can’t care for themselves.

He’s concerned that if Medicaid funding is cut, the services that he and others in his position need will also be cut, forcing them into nursing homes. And that would mean a loss of personal independence and freedom, he said.

“It just seems a bit rushed, to put it lightly,” he said after coming out of the sit-in to talk with the media. “I’m sure health care could be improved, costs could be brought down. It’s just a bit more complicated than that.”

Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

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