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People with disabilities will keep fighting for their health care

It was gratifying to know that one of the main reasons this cruel proposal crashed and burned was that people with disabilities fought back.

Activists are surrounded by U.S. Capitol Police as

Activists are surrounded by U.S. Capitol Police as they protest against the Republican health care bill outside the offices of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), July 10, 2017, on Capitol Hill. Photo Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

What a delight it was to wake up the other day and find that another nasty attempt by Republicans to take away people’s health care had failed.

I’m talking about the implosion of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, Senate Republicans’ latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The proposal, which the AARP estimated would have slashed Medicaid spending between $2 trillion to $3.8 trillion over the next 20 years, was a callous assault on the independence of people with disabilities - like me.

It was even more gratifying to know that one of the main reasons this cruel proposal crashed and burned was that people with disabilities fought back. Video of disabled protesters from the group ADAPT being dragged out of the hallway in front of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office went viral. Other ADAPT protesters occupied the office of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., for more than 50 hours before they were arrested and removed.

I took part in two other ADAPT protests. On June 26, I joined disabled people from Indiana in an occupation of the office of their Republican senator, Todd Young. We demanded that he publicly vow to vote against the bill. Federal marshals removed us from the office and building, carrying some and pushing or driving the wheelchairs of others. There were no arrests.

Two days later, I joined disabled people from Wisconsin in an action targeting their Republican senator, Ron Johnson. Again, as we chanted in the atrium of the federal building and U.S. courthouse in Milwaukee, we were removed but not arrested.

The Senate Republicans’ bill, like one passed earlier by the House, would have placed harsh limits on the amount of Medicaid funding the federal government would annually give to each state. Right now, state and federal governments split the cost of providing Medicaid services, whatever it may be.

The idea of capping Medicaid scares me to death. I use a motorized wheelchair and employ a crew of people to assist me with daily tasks like dressing, bathing and getting out of bed. Their wages are paid by a Medicaid-funded state program. Without this assistance, I would be stuck in a nursing home.

An analysis of the bill by the Community Living Policy Center concluded that if its proposed limits on Medicaid spending had been implemented in 2005, spending on community support programs like the one that serves me would have been reduced by between $72 billion to $98 billion in just the first nine years.

After the election last November, it was hard to not succumb to despair. But since then I have found hope in the idea that collective protest action can turn the tide against the GOP’s agenda. That’s exactly what happened. Thousands of people around the country have stood up for Medicaid and affordable health care. And, so far, it’s working.

But Republican leaders are so obsessed with destroying Medicaid that they will try again and again. The fiscal year 2018 budget resolution just released by the House Budget Committee calls for caps on Medicaid.

So the fight is far from over. But now, at least we know we can win.

Mike Ervin, a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago, writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple at smartasscripple.blogspot.com. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

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