AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A coalition of people who depend on Medicaid for their health care and jobs called on the Texas Legislature Tuesday to fully fund the program when they meet next year.
People with disabilities, parents with ill children, the elderly poor and the health care providers who work with them held a pre-Thanksgiving meeting to demonstrate who depends on Medicaid and how important the program is for them.
"I am thankful for Medicaid for all those millions of older seniors and disabled who no longer have adequate health care," said Charlotte Flynn, a 93-year-old former chair of the Grey Panthers. "In Texas we are not very gracious with giving funding for those in need."
Lawmakers cut Medicaid programs last year and underfunded the program by $4.8 billion. When the Legislature meets next year, they will have until March to make up the budget deficit or the health care program for 3.6 million Texans will shut down.
Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides health care to the poor, disabled and the neediest elderly Americans. The service provides care 55 percent of newborns in Texas and 2.5 million poor children overall. But the 738,000 seniors and the disabled in the program make up 58 percent of Medicaid spending.
Gov. Rick Perry has asked the federal government to allow Texas to completely overhaul the program, warning that the growing costs could bankrupt the state. Federal rules guarantee that the needy receive a minimum level of benefits across the country.
The elderly and disabled are particularly concerned about cuts to programs that allow them to live at home instead of in institutions. The state-portion of Medicaid is expected to rise by at least $7 billion in the next two-year budget cycle, representing a challenge to Republican leaders who have pledged to limit growth in overall state spending to about $7 billion.
"I was in a state (institution) and my life was hell," Albert Metz said using a computer to speak for him. "Now I have my own apartment, and Medicaid matters because it pays for my medicine and the repairs to my wheelchairs and my communication device and it also pays for my attendant care."
The Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice, in a separate statement Tuesday, called on lawmakers to reinstate funding cut last year for home care and hospice.
"Home care and hospice services are the most cost-effective methods of care for Medicare and Medicaid," said Rachel Hammon, the association's executive director. "The use of these services contributes to billions of dollars in taxpayer savings by preventing or reducing the use of more expensive emergency room, hospital and nursing home services."
Others calling for robust funding of Medicaid talked about how the program helped care for a disabled child and employed more than 500,000 health care providers in Texas.