Let’s Make Sure We Keep the Promise

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

The end of the year tends to be a busy time.  The holidays are upon us, there are seemingly endless tasks and errands, high school seniors are planning the next steps in their lives, and Old Man Winter makes his annual return.  This is also the time of year when Congress tries to wrap up business.  In 2017, that means tax reform, which we all know is an unfailingly complicated business.  In addition, this year Congress will also take up the chore of confirming (or not) a new Secretary of Health and Human Services.  With all due respect to the enormity of the work happening in Washington D.C., we should be careful to ensure we don’t leave people who need help, and those who provide that help, behind.  In other words, let’s make sure we keep the promise.

It is most important that we remember that massive change has the potential to inflict unintended consequences on various groups.  As such, our Congress has a responsibility to be sure that any legislation or action does not inadvertently harm people with disabilities or the professionals who work tirelessly to help them.  The cost of providing quality services to people is not cheap, and it’s not supposed to be.  An automobile with front and side airbags costs more than one with pillows stapled to the steering wheel because it’s safer for people, and that’s what provider agencies do: we keep people safe.  Providing supports that allow people to live vibrant lives with dignity and choice is the minimum of what we should require as a society.  And this is not just a responsibility at the national level either.  Individual states must also ensure that we don’t lose the gains we’ve made over the years.

Massachusetts is one of a number of states now moving under the auspices of managed care entities the fiscal oversight responsibilities for many of the services provided to people with disabilities   The goal of reducing redundancy through better coordination of care is appropriate and even admirable.  That goal, however, is dwarfed by the responsibility to make sure that no one who currently receives community supports is forced to make do with less. We must take great care to guard against the pitfalls experienced in states such as Texas, where many severely disabled children have seen a horrifying reduction in vital services, or Kansas, where some families have been asked to sign blank treatment plans that ultimately called for drastic cuts to supports that keep loved ones in the community.  Massachusetts has always been a compassionate leader in the provision of social services and that commitment must remain absolute in the face of any systemic changes that may take place

As politicians struggle with the need and pressure to reduce runaway costs in certain areas, they owe it to everyone who receives community based-supports to remember just what people with disabilities (and their families) were told to expect when such supports were moved out of institutions and into local communities.  They were promised that people would be safe.  That is a promise that needs to be kept.  It’s everyone’s responsibility to see that it is.

Is this the Final Assault on Medicaid?

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

With the year half over already, the U.S. Senate is working furiously to pass a bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act before Congress recesses for the July 4th holiday.  A bill written in complete secrecy by just 13 members of the 100-member Senate is finally making its way to all of the people who will ultimately vote on it next week and, like the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, the details are alarming.

Of paramount concern is the Senate’s plan to mirror the bill passed by the House that significantly cut Medicaid over a ten-year period, while also converting it to a block grant.  It is not just an assault on Medicaid, but an unequivocal betrayal of people with developmental disabilities and the hard-working men and women who support them in the community.  With Governor Baker already asserting that this legislation will cost Massachusetts billions if enacted, the Commonwealth will find itself in a position where draconian cuts to basic supports will be inevitable.  The human service industry already struggles to hire people, and will now be gutted even further.  The funds available to increase wages will disappear.  There have been months of advocacy that have taken place to educate the White House and Congress about what these cuts will do to people with disabilities, as well as the professionals dedicated to helping them.  Both the proposed Senate and House bills represent that the people who wrote them and voted for them just don’t care.  They know that services for people with disabilities will be cut and that pay for direct care professionals will freeze. Their actions prove they truly don’t give a damn.  How did we allow our society to get here?  If there is one thing that elected officials should be able to agree upon, it is the duty to protect people with disabilities and the too-long-taken-for-granted workforce that helps them.  Instead, President Trump and leadership in the House and Senate have chosen to abandon them and dedicate dollars that currently support these groups to the most affluent in our country via a tax cut.  Perhaps worst of all, these actions come following a promise from candidates that, if elected, they would protect Medicaid and the disabled.  Obviously, it was a lie from the start.

There is still a process that these bills must go through before becoming law.  Essentially, the House and the Senate must find a way to reconcile the two bills into one and send it to the White House to be signed.  It is my hope that people will flood lawmakers like never before with phone calls and emails that decry this horrific dismissal of people in need.  We should inundate our lawmakers with the notion that people with disabilities have the right to live safely in local communities.  We must also remember the professionals who are dedicated to supporting them.  So many people have worked way too hard, for far too long, under grueling circumstances to be so blithely abandoned in favor of millionaires and stubborn ideology.  Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.  If one believes this, it would seem that we are dangerously close to failing the test.

Forum with Congressman Joe Kennedy

On Monday, Venture representatives attended a Disability and Health Care Forum with Congressman Joe Kennedy hosted by the Association of Developmental Disability Providers at the Boston Marriott in Newton.  The event was attended by staff members and leadership from human service agencies, self-advocates, and family members of people with disabilities.  Kennedy shared his commitment to “recognizing the potential in every person”, regardless of their physical or intellectual disability.

Congressman Kennedy expressed his concern about the American Health Care Act and how it will affect the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, with $1.4 trillion in cuts to health care.  He shared his concerns regarding threats to social security, affordable housing, food stamps, and even Special Olympics.  He pledged his commitment to the disability community, saying that we cannot support “cuts to services that we will all likely use someday, or be used by someone we love”.  In addition to thanking attendees for their activism, he encouraged the group to continue advocating and raising their voices.  He asked advocates to contact friends and family in other states and encourage them to find one more Republican Senator to oppose the AHCA.

Recently, Congressman Kennedy addressed Congress, rebuking The American Health Care Act.  Watch the video here.

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III represents the 4th District of Massachusetts and is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.  For more information, visit his web site.

Don’t Betray Innocent People

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

Once again there is a bill in Washington that would replace the Affordable Care Act with another version of health care policies, regulations, and practices.  Obviously, this is a heated political issue and will likely remain so for many years – but the politics of it tend to obscure an important fact: the current bill, like the last failed bill, will unequivocally harm people with disabilities and the professionals who support them.  In other words, it betrays innocent people.

The proposed bill will punch holes in Medicaid funding that individual states will not be able to fill.  With cuts of almost $850 billion over the next ten years, people with disabilities and their advocates once again find themselves (for the second time in a year that is barely four months old) in danger of being left behind.  In fact, given that this is the second bill in 2017 that threatens them, it would appear that a good many people in Congress are also choosing to simply say that these people just don’t matter.  How in the world can that be okay in this country?

Medicaid is a $600 billion annual program that contains many provisions and it is probably time for the program to be evaluated in terms of efficiency and outcomes.  Nonetheless, converting it to a block grant or per capita program goes well beyond that.  It destroys safety nets and opportunities for people with disabilities and turns a blind eye to the work force that has battled for years to be recognized with appropriate pay and benefits for the valuable work they do and have always done.  Drastic reductions to Medicaid funding undeniably makes it even harder to support professionals who are already stretched too thin.  Clearly, these proposed Medicaid cuts are tantamount to Congress and the new administration telling this workforce that what they do isn’t important.  At best, the people proposing this latest bill just don’t understand what this industry does.  At worst, they just don’t care.

People with developmental disabilities rely on current levels of funding to stay safe, to remain in a community of choice, to get to work programs, and to access wellness and recreation.  It’s utterly baffling that this would be a group that politicians seem to have deemed as needing less than they get now.  We’ll ignore the reality that savings realized from service cuts to disabled people are intended to fund a tax cut for people making a million dollars a year and up.  That’s an issue to be taken up elsewhere.  What needs to be talked about is the reality that the current legislation, as written, will take away from people who essentially have the least.  People with developmental disabilities already struggle to work, to get adequate health care, to have reliable transportation, to develop social networks, and to be heard.  They also are victims of abuse and neglect at a higher rate than the general population.  So why does Washington believe that reducing programs that support them is a good idea?  No one seems willing to answer that question, particularly those who when campaigning pledged not to cut Medicaid.  The hypocrisy is staggering!

The ACA is obviously a hot button issue that will remain so for a long time to come.  It’s expensive and it is the duty of elected officials to examine it and anything else that divides so many people.  But don’t do something that harms people who are ignored far too often.  Don’t turn back the clock and wipe out years of progress on so many fronts for people with developmental disabilities.  Hey Washington – don’t betray innocent people.

Let’s Remember Those Who Need Help

by Mike Hyland, Venture President & CEO

It’s far too easy to get caught up in and distracted by rhetoric, particularly in a time when people are conditioned to get their information from agenda driven headlines and 140 characters of social media.  Those dynamics make it all the more important that we all make a commitment to doing something that used to be simple: let’s remember those who need help.

The pending changes to Medicaid are intended to redirect federal funds (not reduce them) and the collateral damage of this initiative will ultimately be a reduction in services and accessibility for the people that Venture and other committed agencies have supported for so long.  For some people who are thriving as vibrant members of local communities, the new Medicaid system will leave them without the support they rely on now to be as successful as they are.  For others, a reduction in dollars dedicated to community programs will prevent them from achieving appropriate levels of independence.  While Medicaid is a tremendous expense on both the federal and state levels, trying to contain costs by putting at-risk populations at even more risk is simply irresponsible.  Furthermore, trying to save Medicaid dollars by weakening safety nets for people who are already routinely marginalized, and often can’t advocate for themselves, is abhorrent.

We must also remember that this is not actually a political issue; it’s a human issue.  We’re not talking about immigration or manipulation or Medicaid fraud.  We’re talking about people who rely upon community supports from under-paid professionals to remain out of more expensive settings.  If Medicaid becomes a block grant program rather than its current program of matching federal dollars, people who have never abused the benefits of the program will be forced to make do with less.  Even the Chief Medical officer at the Health and Human Services department in Washington, Dr. Andrey Ostrovsky, is opposed to the idea of converting Medicaid to a block grant funding model, as is now proposed in Congress.  Dr. Ostrovsky believes that the harm caused by the suggested shift in funding will be wide-spread and certainly include people with disabilities.

And what of the dedicated professionals who work so hard and so well in the industry?  They are already grossly underpaid and over-burdened as it is.  The battle to provide this critical (and economically significant) workforce with appropriate wages and health insurance is constant.  These people will undoubtedly be left behind again if there are Medicaid cuts that reduce the amount of money that currently funds community-based supports for individuals and families. At a time when recruitment of staff to work in human services is at a crisis point, the act of reallocating current funds away from the people who already make sacrifices to care for others is nothing short of disgraceful.

Cuts to Medicaid will have a long-term ripple effect too.  Progress that has been made over the years in helping people with disabilities will halt and eventually reverse, and the workforce will be further diminished because livable wages will be harder to provide than ever before.  In short, pending reductions to the dollars vital to so many people who need help amounts to one big broken promise.