Straight talk

March 24-30
VOL 124 NO. 11
Straight talk
By Rick Fitzgerald/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
The soaring cost of healthcare in the U.S. is a major concern for everyone these days. Gov. George Pataki wants to help balance the state budget by making a series of cuts in the Medicaid program. These cuts could have a devestating effect on three million of the program’s recipients in New York.

In a recent meeting sponsored by the New York State Self-Advocacy Association at the Syracuse Developmental Services Office, representatives of state government met with members of the elderly and disabled communities that would be hardest hit if these cuts take place.

Among those at the meeting were Megan Patterson from Assemblywoman Joan Christenson’s office, Colleen Hassett-Mastine from Sen. John DeFrancisco’s office, Dan Sweetland from Assemblyman Will Barclay’s office and Babette Yunes from the governor’s local office. Gov. Pataki wants to cut services which are funded by Medicaid and limit access to other services. Doing so would put many residents in danger of being institutionalized and thousands more would be unable to afford such basics as food, medical care, medicine and equipment needed for daily life. In fact, the room was full of people using wheelchairs, walkers and crutches as their only means of mobility.

The proposed cuts include eliminating non-clinical dental coverage for adults, podiatry coverage and private duty nursing services. He also wants to establish a Preferred Drug Program. This would limit or eliminate access to many effective drugs and increase co-pays for both name brand and generic drugs. Co-pays for generic medicine would double to one dollar while people would pay a dollar more for each name brand prescription.

Living independently is a cornerstone of American life. Decreased funding for private care nursing or the Personal Care Assistants program would mean that many people who depend upon these services could be forced to go into a nursing home or institution. That not only would break the spirit of the people involved, but also drain money from local economy. Churches would also suffer losses of attendance and contributions.

One of the first speakers was Micheal Kennedy from Self-Advocacy, who spent 20 years in state institutions but now has a place of his own. “It took me all those years to get out,” he said, “and to cut the services that disabled people need so they can live as independently as possible is ridiculous. Why do you have to balance the budget on the backs of the people who need the services most?”

There were many parents of disabled children wondering how they were going to pay for the medicine needed to keep their child’s conditions in check. Their concern was obvious when a video tape made by Lisa Obreist, who is currently in St. Camillius Rehabilition Center in Camillius was played. “I hope that the aide services I need are still in place when I’m ready to leave,” she said, “or they might not let me go home.” Aide services also give a disabled mother with three young children the chance to show them that although she needs a bit more help than most parents, she can still go to their ball games, help with homework and always be there for them.

Unless an individual has a specific problem, how often would one visit a podiatrist? If that person is a diabetic, he or she would go often because good foot care is essential. Without frequent visits, a person with diabetes could be in danger of losing his or her feet to the disease. A letter written by Ann Woodlan was then read. Miss Woodlan wasn’t able to come to the forum because, in her words, “It’s scheduled for the same time as my dentist appointment. That’s when I’m getting my new Medicaid dentures.” Then she added, “It took me six years to get them and I don’t want to miss this opportunity.”

These proposed cuts will also have a profound effect on people with disabilities and seniors who want to join the workforce. Tina Fitzgerald is a good example of this. She works at ARISE, Syracuse’s Independent Living Center, as their benefits specialist. “I work with disabled people who want to go to work every day,” she explained. “The first question I hear is, ‘If I go to work, will I lose my Medicaid and other benefits?’” She, like so many others at the meeting, has a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) who helps her get ready for work. Loss of these services would prevent her and many more like her from being as active in their communities as they want to be. On average, it costs $250 a day for a person to live in a nursing home. It has been cited that similar community-based services cost up to two-thirds of that cost.

Also of great concern in the planned budget cuts is the governor’s wish to eliminate a married couple’s right of spousal refusal. This gives a spouse the right not to pay for the other’s medical and home care bills if doing so would cause financial hardship for that person. If this right is not allowed, affected couples would be forced to make a heart wrenching decision: Do they impoverish themselves to pay for the care, put the loved one in a nursing home so the care would be given to them or worst of all, get separated or divorced to absolve themselves of the responsibility? If these proposed cuts take place, a large part of society will lose its voice in the community.

Contact Bill from the New York State Self-Advocacy Association at (315) 473-6927 or Beata from ARISE at (315) 671-2929 for more information.

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