There were several videos I watched about the protests. I was fascinated. 10 protesters with disabilities from the Colorado chapter of ADAPT (a disability rights organization) sat in the lobby of Senator Cory Garner’s office for 59 hours (In those 59 hours many laid on the floor and didn’t respond to questions. They called what they were doing a die-in rather than a sit-in because that is what would happen to many people with disabilities if they lost their Medicaid coverage.) The protesters were asking to meet with the senator to talk about their concerns over the health care bill, that he helped to draft.
After two and a half days, the protestors were all arrested and nine out of the ten sat in jail for another thirty hours waiting to be processed. While they were being taken away, all the protesters were chanting that they would “rather go to jail than to die without Medicaid.”
One video, in particular, stood out to me. In the middle of the protest, a cop asked all the people with disabilities what they were protesting.
“Cuts to Medicaid” they responded.
“So, you are protesting just for people with disabilities then?” The cop asked.
“No,” one woman who used a wheelchair said adamantly. Then she asked the cop an interesting question.
“If you were shot in the line of duty next week, and rendered a quadriplegic who needed the assistance of a ventilator to breathe, would the police department pay all your medical bills for the rest of your life?
“I don’t know.” The cop responded honestly.
“Well, if you don’t know the answer to that question,” the protester said; “then we are protesting for your well-being also.”
On the day the health care bill was released, about 50 members of ADAPT protested outside of Mitch McConnell’s office in Washing ton D.C. As they were being arrested and literally dragged out of their wheelchairs and carried away, they were chanting, “No caps! No cuts! Save our liberty!
Both of these protests made national news. There continue to be many more protests by members of ADAPT around the country. And I have to say that if I were to ever get arrested for anything, I would probably consider it an honor if it were for an issue like this. Fighting for my livelihood. Fighting for my life to remain as I know it, for me and for others like me. Fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those things are worth getting arrested for.
Many people in the last few days have asked me why this health care bill would be so devastating to people with disabilities, and why I consider what the ADAPT protesters are doing to be absolutely heroic. For most, Medicaid is what pays the salaries of caregivers. And without caregivers, some people cannot get out of bed in the morning. Some cannot dress themselves. Some cannot drive. Some cannot bathe independently. Medicaid is the only insurance provider in the country that pays the salary of caregivers for people who need that kind of assistance.
Home and Community Based Services, which is the program under Medicaid that pays for caregivers, and enables people with disabilities to live in their communities, is a program that is optional, and not required for Medicaid to cover. If there were massive cuts to the Medicaid program, it would be the optional programs that would be eliminated first.
With caregivers in place to help do all those daily care things, people with disabilities can live in their own homes, be employed, pay taxes and be active in their communities. The alternative would be living in nursing homes, where a person does not have a choice about what time they want to eat their meals or what way they prefer their laundry to be done. Those are some things many people don’t think about and often take for granted. For some people with disabilities, those little things mean freedom.
I’ve said it before. In my opinion, the way to give people with disabilities dignity is to give us choices. If our choices are taken away, then we simply become something to be dealt with and we lose our humanity.
But this issue has never solely been about people who were born with a disability.
According to a recent episode of the Rachel Maddow show, Medicaid covers half of all births in this country. “Therefore,” Ms. Maddow said, “If you have ever had a baby or had a partner who has had a baby or heck if you have ever been a baby, you should care about this issue.” Medicaid also covers 30% of all adults with disabilities in this country and 60% of all children with disabilities in addition to 70% of all children living at or below the poverty line in America. The quality of our lives matter.
Let me repeat that. The quality of our lives matter.
One of the things I have said often is that disability has an open enrollment policy. Anyone is a slip on the ice or a car accident away from having their lives changed forever in a split second. Disability issues also get more prevalent as people go through the aging process. Many people from all walks of life might need the assistance of Medicaid at one point or another.
Because I am a member of various disability groups on Facebook, I have seen countless videos in the past few weeks of people who eloquently describe the impact Medicaid has had on their lives. One man became paralyzed after he was bitten by a deer tick on a camping trip several years ago. Doctors were able to save his life, but not his ability to move. He is paralyzed from the neck down. That kind of thing could literally happen to anyone. It is Medicaid funds that pay for his caregivers who help him get up and go to work every day. He works full time and makes a good living. He pays taxes. Without the support of his caregivers, he would not be able to hold a job.
Another man had been diagnosed with cancer of the voice box three years ago. It was only because of the Affordable Care Act (which qualified him for Medicaid) that he was able to have the surgery that ultimately saved his voice and his life.
Why do these protests by people with disabilities matter so much? Because many people with disabilities would literally die without the Medicaid services they receive.
And some day, so could you.