AHCA would hurt children in need

Julie Sjordal, Guest Columnist

Julie Sjordal

When my sister Angie, was born, my family’s world tumbled into worry. Angie had Down syndrome, and in 1968, the prevailing “treatment” recommendation was institutionalization. Thanks to Medicaid, that didn’t happen then and hasn’t happened at any point in Angie’s life.

I loved Angie more than I realized was possible, and felt called to caregiving at a very young age. As a result, my whole life has been devoted to working on behalf of vulnerable populations in Minnesota. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) does the opposite.
My family brought Angie to St. David’s Center for Child and Family Development when she was 3 years old, at a time when inclusive education was still new. Instead of isolating Angie in an institution, Medicaid has allowed Angie to live an independent life. Today, she has her own apartment, she gets the medical care she needs to thrive, and she has in-home support to keep her safe and healthy when my family can’t be there. She also holds a job and is a tax-paying member of the community.

Not only has Medicaid allowed my family to successfully care for Angie, I see the impact of Medicaid funding every hour of every day in my work. Currently, I serve as the chief executive officer at St. David’s Center. I am responsible for an organization that employs hundreds of people and serves thousands of children. Our outcomes for children with special needs are phenomenal, and many of them wouldn’t have access to our programs without Medicaid assistance. If we allow the AHCA to proceed, we cut off the children who need treatment most. This will cost us more in the long run.
With fewer clients, we would need fewer staff – which means fewer jobs. My fight to save Medicaid is not only on behalf of my sister, but also on behalf of the hundreds of people whose employment provides critically needed services to clients supported by Medicaid funds. Medicaid detractors say it’s just easy health care for the unemployed. This is simply not true.

But critics might be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: if unemployment rates rise considerably due to cuts in the health care field, those individuals will be seeking state-funded health care.
Let’s look at the numbers. In Minnesota, Medicaid covers: 50 percent of people in nursing homes; 50 percent of people with disabilities; and 25 percent of children. One-sixth of health care funding comes from Medicaid.

When you apply that math to the 5.49 million people who live in Minnesota, it results in a staggering amount of individuals being cut off from critical care when they need it most.
When we are healthy, employed, and young, we can’t imagine needing Medicaid. But your circumstances can change in a moment. Tomorrow, you could be seriously injured in a car accident. Next year, you could have a child with special needs. In the next decade, your parents could need costly medical care. And at the end of your life, you might find yourself needing to be in assisted living for longer than you anticipated and running out of money to cover it.
When you add your spouse/partner and loved ones to the mix, the chances that you or someone whose welfare you are responsible for might need Medicaid someday become extremely high, if not almost certain.

Invest in your future. Invest in the future of those who can’t advocate for themselves. Tell your representatives that you oppose the AHCA, and that Medicaid must be protected. Angie depends on it. I depend on it. My staff depends on it. The children we serve depend on it. And chances are, someday you will, too.

Sjordal is the CEO of St. David’s Center for Child and Family Development in Minnetonka.