It was never my intention to write a word about politics when I created this blog several years ago. However, my world has turned.
Since February of 2015, I have been a public advocate for healthcare for the poor and working poor. This started over an incident while I was attending a legislative reception sponsored by the Disability Coalition of Tennessee in that same time period. I was attending the reception as a parent of a special needs child. I personally invited my State Senator, my State Representative, and the State Representative from the community in which the congregation I serve is located, to look me up at the reception. I wanted to have the opportunity to speak to them on behalf of people like my son, Matt, who were disabled and waiting on financial assistance from the Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. Leann and I had put Matt’s name on the list known to the disability community as the “DIDD’s list.” We were several thousand names down on the waiting list.
I was attending the reception as a parent of a special needs child. I personally invited my State Senator, Ferrel Haile, my State Representative, Terri Lynn Weaver, and the State Representative from Lebanon, Mark Pody, to look me up at the reception. I wanted to have the opportunity to speak to them on behalf of people like my son, Matt, who were disabled and waiting on financial assistance from the Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. Leann and I had put Matt’s name on the list known to the disability community as the “DIDD’s list.” We were several thousand names down on the waiting list.
During the reception Rep. Weaver responded to my question about where she stood on the Governor’s proposal for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee (known as Insure Tennessee. Insure Tennessee would not help Matt, but it would have helped the 280,000 poor and working poor, including about 25,000 Veterans that were in what is known as the “coverage gap” between the limited number of people in Tennessee on Medicaid, and those who receive subsidies from the Affordable Care Act to help pay their insurance premiums). When she responded, “Pastor, you know, Jesus said: ‘the poor will always be with you,’” (as if Jesus meant: “So don’t worry about them. There will always be poor people). I realized that there are people in elected office who really do not have a heart for those that Jesus has a heart for.
Throughout the Old Testament the prophets’ main concern is the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien resident. In the New Testament Jesus is very clear about where he stands for the poor (most notably read Matthew 25). He considers doing for the poor the same as doing for him. He says when we see the poor we see him.
At that moment I started thinking that 40 or 50 years ago somebody realized that institutionalizing people with developmental and intellectual disabilities was not the best treatment, although it was very common and the most consistent practice when a family had a child born with what we now call “special needs.” Because people had spoken out long and loud enough to get that practice changed, and my own family had benefited greatly from Matt living in our home and being mainstreamed in public schools, I realized I could not be silent about access to healthcare for the poor and working poor—a problem for which the answer was as simple as our state legislature voting “yes.” The Governor’s plan would not have cost the state any tax money. And so I did. I started advocating for Insure Tennessee, and along the way learned a lot about the legislative actions on both the state and federal level.
And so I did. I started advocating for Insure Tennessee, and along the way learned a lot about the legislative actions on both the state and federal level. The results have not been good. In fact, instead of being closer to a positive outcome, our nation is perilously close to significantly cutting the Medicaid program. According to an early analysis of the Congressional Budget Office of the U.S. Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, the cuts over the next 10 years will be $772 Billion. Additionally, the formula for states receiving federal money for their Medicaid program will change to what is known as a “per-capita cap.” This means whatever the states are getting now per person in 2017 will remain virtually the same in the future, even though one can be reasonably sure healthcare prices will continue to increase. So to just treat the same people – if no new Medicaid recipients are added – the available money for services will grow tighter and tighter each year.
Here are some people who benefit from Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation over 80% of Medicaid dollars go to the elderly (nursing home coverage), disabled, and children living in poverty. Less than 20% go to able bodied adults. I imagine that of those “able bodied adults” many of them are the mothers of the children living in poverty (because they qualify for Medicaid as well). When a special needs child receives occupational therapy or speech therapy at school Medicaid reimburses the school system for the cost of the therapist. About half of the children born in Tennessee are covered by Medicaid.
The bottom line for me as a Christian pastor is that the people who will be most greatly affected by deep cuts in Medicaid are the elderly, the disabled, and children. The elderly in nursing homes can only receive Medicaid if they have no assets. That means they are poor. Disabled children and adults can rarely work at a level to provide an income to fully support themselves. And the children who are on Medicaid are covered because their family meets a poverty threshold.
After my ordination vow to teach and preach the word of God and administer the Holy Sacraments; and to provide pastoral care, the third vow is: “To speak for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed.” I consider this one of the most challenging, but one of the most important things that I am doing right now. If you believe this is an issue that people of faith should speak out for please call your United States Senators and let them know you are asking them to not cut Medicaid because of its affect on the elderly, the disabled, and children. You can call this number and within a couple of menu choices be connected to your United States Senator: (202) 224-3121