By: Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont State Director

Legislation has consequences. The most recent Senate Bill — Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) – poses devastating repercussions for thousands of Vermonters.  It’s no better than the House proposal and certainly not “Better Care” in any way, shape or form! This bill would increase costs and risks for Vermonters, including: seniors, children and adults with disabilities, all of us with pre-existing conditions, and especially people age 50-64.

But, let’s start with Vermont taxpayers and Medicaid cuts. Most troubling, the proposals would reduce federal funding for Medicaid which supports health programs for our poorest and sickest neighbors – young and old. Such a huge loss of funds, in total $834 billion nationwide, would blow a giant hole in our state budget, shifting more costs onto Vermont taxpayers.

For the people of Vermont, Medicaid serves as a critically important safety net, even a lifeline. Rip up the guarantee of medical and other care for our state’s most vulnerable and you damage the health and well-being of countless low-income children, families, seniors, and people with disabilities. In Vermont there are some 200,000 citizens participating in a Medicaid-funded program.

Yet that is just what the U.S. Senate would do in a bill now being deliberated.  The legislation is named “The Better Care Reconciliation Act,” but it’s quite the opposite:  People in the Medicaid program would receive worse care — or no care at all — well into the future.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has reported that the bill would slash Medicaid spending by 35 percent by 2036, leaving 22 million people without insurance. The proposed bill would do so by limiting federal funding and shifting costs over time to states and people who count on Medicaid too.

Vermont would then face some extremely painful choices.  We would have to reduce eligibility, whittle down benefits, increase the cost to individuals, raises taxes or cut other state programs. Or, we would have to lower payments to providers, who may then decide not to serve people with Medicaid at all.  Just thinking about these potential choices shows us that the effects of Medicaid cuts will punish people far and wide, inside and outside the program, across Vermont.

We are especially worried about our state’s older citizens and people with disabilities, as the proposed Medicaid cuts could mean seniors and people with disabilities lose access to the services that they need to live at home where they want to be rather than in a nursing facility or another institution.

AARP has found that about 90 percent of people want to live in their homes as long as they can, and these services help make that possible.  They not only make a very positive difference in the lives of our older residents and their families, but they also save money for Vermont because nursing home care is far more expensive than residing at home.

More than 55,000 older Vermonters rely on Medicaid for services and supports such as help with eating, bathing, dressing, managing medications, and transportation.  Where will they turn if they lose access to these services?  How will it affect their health and their ability to live independently? The funding cuts could be particularly dangerous for Medicaid enrollees with serious diseases such as cancer or cystic fibrosis that require sophisticated and innovative care and treatment.

Indeed, the Senate health care bill is a giant step backward on the Medicaid front.  It would threaten the health and access to 200,000 Vermonters — from infants to seniors.  It would crush our state budget for many years to come, with serious repercussions far beyond health care and far beyond the Medicaid population.

Fortunately, Senators Leahy and Sanders, as well as Congressman Welch, all recognize the devastating impacts of this flawed legislation and have spoken out against it. We applaud their commitment to protecting Vermonters and working to defeat a bill that will only bring higher costs, less coverage and a massive budget shortfall.


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