House GOP budget concerns disability advocates

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) released the House Republicans proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget Tuesday, unveiling a plan to reduce the nation’s debt by overhauling Medicaid and a variety of other programs with large implications for people with disabilities.

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Under the plan, Medicaid, the nation’s premier health services program for low-income individuals, would no longer be a federally administered program. Instead, each state would administer its own Medicaid program with the support of a fixed amount of money from the federal government, in a process known as block granting.

The proposal would cap annual spending on the program, leading to an estimated reduction of $810 million in federal spending on Medicaid during the next 10 years.

For disability advocacy groups, such as the Arc, the proposal would be “devasting” for people with disabilities, their families and their service providers.

“It is deeply troubling that, in the name of deficit reduction, there is absolutely no shared sacrifice. The House Budget proposes to decimate the Medicaid program, taking away essential health and long term services and supports for our middle and low income citizens, while providing for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of the Arc, in a news release. “It should be called the ‘fend for yourself’ budget.”

The proposal would also repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate, the planned expansion of Medicaid and new consumer protections, such as a provision barring insurers from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions.

The Medicaid block granting proposal is almost identical to that Ryan’s budget proposal from last year, which passed the House of Representatives but was dead on arrival in the Senate. The budget was strongly opposed by disability advocacy groups and prompted protests by disability advocates in the Washington D.C. last spring.

The proposal would place the amount of federal spending on Medicaid about 22 percent below the level needed to sustain the existing program over that period.  By 2023 funding would be 34% below the program’s needs, according to a news release from the American Association of People with Disabilities. About 40 percent of Medicaid spending is spent on on about 8 million people with disabilities receiving services through the program.

“These draconian cuts to Medicaid would greatly increase the number of people who are uninsured and do not have access to health care,” the Bazelon Center for Mental Health stated in a news release. “Congress must strengthen, not weaken, Americans’ access to quality health care via Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. The House Republican budget proposal would set the country on the wrong path.”