I am — like thousands of others in West Virginia — a person with a disability. I was born with cerebral palsy and need a power wheelchair to get around. I’m also a mother, a widow, and a daughter. My handsome son, Wesley, is in the military and serves in Iraq.
Like many other people with disabilities, I have created a full life for myself: I am becoming a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children; I serve on several boards for disability organizations; and I am the co-coordinator of West Virginia ADAPT, a grassroots disability rights organization.
Also like so many other people with disabilities, I am only able to live this full, active life because of Medicaid. Medicaid pays for my wheelchair, for my medications and for the attendant who helps me get up in the morning and go to bed at night. Without these supports, I would be in a nursing home. Or, I would be dead.
The current congressional proposals to fundamentally change — and slash — Medicaid leave me terrified. The home- and community-based services that Medicaid funds for me — and 13,000 other senior and disabled West Virginians — could disappear. Completely. We will be left with no choice but to abandon our jobs, our families, our volunteer work. Many of us might be forced into nursing homes. Others would have family members who quit their jobs to care for us. Still others would die.
A vote in the Senate in July might end Medicaid as we know it. Medicaid has been the cornerstone of community care for decades. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed the law that first set up the waiver programs for home- and community-based services. And this week marks the 18-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead decision, which guarantees the rights of persons with disabilities to live independently. Without guaranteed Medicaid funding, our rights under Olmstead are just a piece of paper.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s vote is critical. I am glad that she has expressed opposition to the current Senate bill. That is the right thing to do. But I want to urge her to think about senior and disabled West Virginians and not be swayed by members of the Senate leadership, who are trying to fix legislation that is fundamentally flawed.
Sen. Capito should oppose any Senate health care bill that cuts and caps Medicaid to pay for tax breaks to wealthy people.
I hope every West Virginian will join me in asking our senator to stand strong and protect the people of our state.
Darla Erwin lives in Davis.