The automatic budget cuts set to go into effect March 1 do not include reductions in Medicaid benefits, but disability groups remain concerned the program could become a political pawn as Congress looks to avert the cuts known in Washington D.C. as the the sequester.
Though Congress avoided the much-hyped “fiscal cliff” by passing a tax reform package Jan. 1, $1.2 billion of cuts spread over 10 years will still go into effect at the end of the month if Congress does not act.
On February 14, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the nation’s largest coalition of disability advocacy groups, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to not include cuts to Medicaid in any deal.
“Your on-going commitment to Medicaid demonstrates a clear understanding of the program’s importance to people with disabilities, seniors, low income parents, pregnant women and children,” the CCD stated in the letter.
About 9 million Medicaid beneficiaries are non-elderly people with disabilities. For many individuals with disabilities whose need for health care and long term services and supports spans their lifetimes, access to Medicaid has life-altering implications; Medicaid is their lifeline.
In 2011, Congress passed a deficit-reduction deal, setting a two-year timeline to create a new long-term budget deal. The deal was set up so that if Congress failed to act, a series of automatic cuts would go into effect: the famed “fiscal cliff.” These cuts, which were delayed for two months in January, do not include Medicaid.
However, the automatic cuts would potentially results in millions of dollars in cuts to special education services, research spending and a variety of other programs affecting people with disabilities.
Disability advocates have been especially concerned about a proposal to change that way that increases in Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits are measured, which normally increased each year based on the inflation rate. The proposal would measure these increases through a “ chained consumer price index,” which would result in smaller increases each year in benefits.
“Cuts from the chained CPI could force people into terrible life and death choices. Many seniors and people with disabilities already live on the edge of financial disaster, just barely able to make ends meet,” CCD chairperson Don Meltizer said in a recent Huffington Post article. “Any cut to benefits will likely mean that a basic need like food, medicine, or shelter will go unmet.”