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Kansans With Disabilities Fearful Of Obamacare Replacement Bill

Jim McLean
Kansas News Service
Mike Oxford, director of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, speaks to disability advocates in Topeka after returning from Washington, D.C., where he was arrested during a protest of the new Senate health bill.

This post was updated Wednesday at 10:54 a.m. to reflect Sen. Moran's statement on the Senate health care bill. 

Disability rights advocates are among the strongest opponents of the Obamacare replacement legislation that Republicans are attempting to push through Congress.

If anything resembling the bill that the U.S. House approved in May or the one the Senate now is considering passes, they say it will roll back decades of progress.

Both bills propose Medicaid cuts approaching $1 trillion over 10 years. Cuts of that magnitude, they say, would force reductions in services that Americans with physical and intellectual disabilities need to help them live independently in their communities.

“I’m very afraid that people would have to go to nursing homes,” said Kim Dietrich, a 46-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who works for the nonprofit Topeka Independent Living Resource Center.

Mike Oxford, the center’s director and a national disability rights organizer, has more dire fears.

“People will die,” he said.

Oxford said he knows people who would rather die than live in an institution.

“People would sit at home and not get any help and end up not getting medication and die,” he said.

Oxford was one of more than 40 disability rights advocates arrested last week for blocking the entrance to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C., while protesting. They entered McConnell’s office, and those who could clambered out of their wheelchairs onto the floor.

“We set it up to be dramatic and make a point, and also to make sure we couldn’t just be carted out of there and be out of sight and out of mind in five minutes,” Oxford said.

Kansas’ share of the Medicaid cuts would total about $1 billion, according to an Urban Institute analysis.

Such deep cuts would make it difficult for the state to maintain services to the approximately 15,000 Kansans with disabilities now receiving services and slow efforts to extend them to the nearly 5,000 people still on waiting lists, Oxford said.

Senate GOP leaders announced Tuesday afternoon that a vote on the bill had been delayed.

All 46 Democrats in the U.S. Senate and both of the independents who caucus with them are on record opposing the bill.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, issued a statement soon after the vote delay was announced that he opposed the current version of the health bill.

“The Senate health care bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support,” Moran said. 

The vote delay followed the release Monday of an analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated that 22 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 under the Senate bill.

David Jordan, director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a nonprofit advocacy group funded by several health foundations, said the CBO score confirms that the Senate legislation is “bad for Kansas.”

“We urge Senators Moran and [Pat] Roberts to vote against this reckless legislation,” Jordan said.

Roberts said last week that he planned to support the bill to “move the process forward.”

“What’s the other alternative? I don’t see anything from the other side except, you know, single payer, and that’s socialized medicine,” Roberts said.

Members of the Kansas chapter of ADAPT, a national disability rights organization, planned demonstrations Tuesday at Moran’s offices in Pittsburg, Wichita and Hays.

“This [bill] is the biggest direct threat to independent living for older Kansans and Kansans with disabilities that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” organizer Ami Hyten said. “It’s time for Senator Moran to get off the fence and support the rights of Kansans with disabilities and older Kansans to appropriate, cost-effective home and community-based services and supports as he has done in the past.”

Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.