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Opinion: Senate “relief” package doesn’t meet the health needs of Coloradans

Christy Charles of Grand Junction, a proud mother to a young adult with Down syndrome, was going about her life supporting her daughter and others with developmental disabilities when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Without adequate insurance and needing income, she continued as her daughter’s paid caregiver and continued to offer unpaid support to others, all while receiving cancer treatment. 

Her insurance did not cover what she needed. Like many on the Western Slope, she was priced out of the market. But thanks to a program that allows disabled adults to buy into Medicaid, she was able to afford the services she needed to keep her daughter in her home and community.

Julie Reiskin

Medicaid is the safety net for people experiencing temporary poverty due to job loss such as during the pandemic that has forced entire industries to close or downsize, causing unemployment and underemployment.

Medicaid is the ONLY funder of long-term care that includes the life-sustaining services for thousands of Colorado’s older adults and disabled citizens.

While most long-term care is provided in home and community-based settings, many residents live in nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, the places that are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The staff that provide long-term care both in facilities and in the community are as essential as hospital workers. Yet many of them work without access to benefits including paid sick leave or even health insurance themselves.

Colorado has worked successfully in a bipartisan manner to increase wages of community-based workers to promote safer and more desirable community-based services whenever possible.

But many workers are still not making a livable wage, something that will only be harder to achieve without more funding for Medicaid.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Approximately 30% of the Medicaid budget and 50% of the general fund in Colorado is spent on long-term care, the disabled and older adults. 

Most Colorado taxpayers across the political spectrum not only support these services but think the government should increase spending to improve quality. Republicans aren’t listening.

Senate Republicans unveiled their roughly $1 trillion stimulus plan last week. This inadequate proposal, ironically called the HEALS Act, will not help Colorado meet the growing need for health coverage amid a massive budget crisis.

If additional federal funds are not forthcoming, Colorado will not be able to sustain the health care gains that have been supported by both parties over the past decade. 

Coloradans’ need for Medicaid coverage has surged during the coronavirus pandemic as unemployment skyrockets and the economy declines. The Senate Republican proposal ignores this growing need despite bipartisan calls for additional federal Medicaid funding for states. Their plan does not include the funds states need to avert damaging cuts to Medicaid and other critical health services. 

That is really a disservice to all of us by not focusing on the needs of our communities and failing to heal the devastation brought by COVID-19. It’s irresponsible and won’t help Coloradans or our state weather and recover from this crisis.

I ask Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Cory Gardner to put Coloradans first by calling on Senate leaders to provide additional Medicaid funding and other badly-needed state aid, as well as assistance for struggling workers and families.

The federal match for Medicaid must be increased by at least 14% and be sustained throughout the pandemic and recovery. Colorado has no rainy-day fund and with the long-term budget crisis created by COVID, will not be able to sustain the Medicaid program at current levels, let alone the increase of 500,000 Coloradans expected this year, and continue to provide safe services for older adults and disabled Coloradans.

The only answer is increased federal funding. This funding has been available in past emergencies, such as the 2008-09 economic crisis, where the impact was far less than the current crisis caused by the out of control pandemic.  

The United States was formed in part to promote the general welfare as well as to secure the blessings of liberty. Neither of these can be done without a functional and well-funded Medicaid program.


Julie Reiskin is Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.


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