CORRECTED VERSION: Travis Hoffman wants Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to know that any cuts to Medicaid could mean that he can’t continue to be a taxpaying, working citizen.
Hoffman, the advocacy coordinator at Summit Independent Living in Missoula, lost the use of his legs and other motor functions in a car accident in 1999.
After the crash, the government insurance program Medicaid paid for nearly $1 million worth of treatment, and now the program pays for an in-home personal attendant since he can’t get out of bed, dress himself or shower without help. Essentially, without Medicaid, Hoffman couldn’t get in his wheelchair to get to work to earn a paycheck and pay income taxes.
“No other health insurance pays for this type of thing,” Hoffman said.
On Tuesday, Hoffman joined three dozen other protesters in front of Daines’ downtown Missoula office for a “Save Medicaid and Die-In” rally, conducted in concert with other events around the country and in Washington, D.C.
Organizer Lisa Davey of the Disability and Aging Alliance of Missoula said the rally was meant to highlight the grave danger of Medicaid cuts, including per-capita caps on how much money states would get from the program.
The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives adopted the American Health Care Act in May, and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that there would be a $834 billion reduction in federal Medicaid dollars to states over 10 years.
It’s not entirely clear how Montana would be affected, but the Montana Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that the state would lose $251 million in Medicaid funds. The bill is now in the U.S. Senate, but the Senate has not adopted its own version of the AHCA yet. Daines has not said how he would vote on a Senate version.
After the May 4 vote, Daines released a short statement, saying “It’s time now for the U.S. Senate to take action and make health care affordable for all Montanans.”
According to the political blog Fivethirtyeight.com, Daines has voted in line with President Donald Trump’s position on issues more than 97 percent of the time so far this year. Trump has backed the GOP health care bill passed by the House, calling it a "great plan" that will reduce insurance premiums.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has been extremely critical of the GOP health care plan, saying it forces seniors to pay more and jeopardizes health care for Montana women.
The Montana Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit that researches tax issues, has estimated that the GOP plan would end Medicaid expansion in Montana for more than 70,000 people.
Davey’s son Logan Wilson, who was at the rally with his mom was born four months premature. She said he has autism, but is a lively, happy, creative kid. Davey said Medicaid has paid for around $5 million in brain surgeries and neonatal intensive care for Logan.
She also noted that Medicaid provides health insurance for 65,000 children in Montana.
“Without Medicaid I would be bankrupt within a month and my son wouldn’t get the medicine he needs,” she said. “I want to see providers get paid and my son continue to have access to care that allows him to reach his potential.”
William Harvey said that the United States is one of the only developed nations where universal healthcare is not a guaranteed right.
“We’re an outlier in that regard and we share a very lone status in that regard, and we have a senator here, Senator Daines, the missing senator,” Harvey said. “He hasn’t been held accountable to us the people one bit. I haven’t seen any accountability from the senator here.”
Harvey said it’s wrong to make health care a partisan political football.
“Those that try to make this a partisan issue are doing a real disservice as well because the state of affairs in this country is a result of Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “This isn’t something that we can just lay blame on his party for. He is a representative of a system that both parties are complicit in. We need to speak truth to all powers.”
Daines’ staff members at his office on Front Street allowed the rally-goers to come in one at a time and detail their concerns. Daines was Washington Tuesday, where the Senate was in session.
A spokesperson for Daines said, “Steve's number one priority is to represent all Montanans and Montana values in the U.S. Senate. He welcomes the opinions of everyone from the Treasure State."