Anna Liebenow: Making the case that Medicaid works

You never know what obstacles life is going to put in front of you. When I was 25, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Before I turned 30, I was using a wheelchair. When you have a disability, it takes a fair amount of creativity to make life work. Like millions of other Americans with disabilities, I found a way. I continued to work, volunteer and live my life.

After a few years, my MS progressed to the point where I could no longer get in and out of the wheelchair on my own. I was still the same person and still wanted to contribute something. But without help transferring from my bed to my wheelchair, I couldn’t even get out the door. The world beyond my bedroom would be lost to me, and all I have to offer the world would go to waste.

Fortunately, Medicaid gives me the missing piece I need to make my life work. An aide comes twice a day to help get me into and out of my wheelchair. This doesn’t just make a difference in my life: It makes the life I have possible. I work at an independent-living center and I volunteer with organizations that serve people with disabilities. The assistance I get means I can help others live meaningful and more independent lives.

For me, a meaningful life includes contributing to my community. Recently, I was appointed to serve on the board of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. Many people with disabilities, seniors and others would be unable to get to work or to their doctors without public transit. Without Medicaid, I wouldn’t even be able to leave my home to get to a board meeting. I think that says it all.

Medicaid also helps me buy medications that control my MS. Without Medicaid, I could not afford my medications, treatments or specialized wheelchair. No amount of creativity or effort would be enough to make my life work if I lost that care. In fact, I might be forced to live in a nursing home—which would not only take away my quality of life, it would cost the taxpayers more than the help I now receive.

As I said, you never know what kind of obstacles life will throw into your path. Our country is facing the greatest economic challenges of my lifetime. Life has gotten much harder for millions of people. I know what that’s like. People are making sacrifices to make life work, and I know what that’s like, too.

Lawmakers in Washington are now negotiating a debt-reduction deal that will likely include massive cuts in federal spending. Medicaid as we know it is at risk, and some proposals would gut the program. To put it bluntly: Cutting Medicaid would end the life I know. Taking away my benefits amounts to telling me that our government does not value the contributions I make. That would be wrong, and I don’t believe it’s what Americans want our government to do.

I am not a policymaker but I do know that slashing the kinds of benefits I rely upon is bad policy. Medicaid makes sense because it helps people live up to their potential. Eliminating the opportunities it provides is bad policy.

Not every American has as much at stake in this discussion as I do, but we should all be concerned about the future of Medicaid. In America, we recognize each person’s potential to contribute. When a person is working hard to overcome a roadblock, we don’t throw another one up in her way.

Our elected leaders need to hear that cutting Medicaid is not what we need, and goes against everything that we are. I am the face of Medicaid: a woman who is not ready to give up on herself and is asking the government not to give up on her.

Anna Liebenow is a member of The American Association of People with Disabilities and a disability rights leader in Rhode Island.

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