WASHINGTON, D.C. – A week after hearing from the mothers of Daniel Humphrey of Lewiston and Lidia Woofenden of Bowdoinham, two young adults with disabilities, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to share their stories with the nation and speak out against the House-passed health care bill as a cruel piece of legislation that would hurt them and other people with disabilities throughout Maine.
In his remarks, Senator King explained that the misleadingly named American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repeals the Affordable Care Act, would cut hundreds of billions of dollars in funding to Medicaid – the government program that provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities, such as Dan and Lidia, who rely on it.
“What happens when we make these cuts? What happens to Lidia? What happens to Dan? Who will speak for them?” Senator King asked. “I will – and I hope this body will. We’re the last bulwark between this terrible piece of legislation that was passed in the House and these people and millions like them across the country.”
Last week, Daniel’s and Lidia’s mothers sat down with Senator King’s staff in Maine to share their fears that the AHCA would jeopardize the success of their children, both of whom have disabilities and depend on Medicaid funding to support their lives.
Daniel, who is 28 and lives in Lewiston, has autism and is nonverbal with bipolar characteristics and a seizure disorder. He has basic functional communications skills, but with prompting and guidance, does all of his chores to care for himself and even volunteers his time to deliver food to seniors through the Meals on Wheels Program. However, he requires around-the-clock care and support in order to maintain his quality of life, without which he regresses to aggressive behaviors such as hair-pulling or nail-biting. Medicaid funding has been essential to supporting his needs and allowing him to live in a home in Lewiston where he has access to care.
Lidia Woofenden, who is 20 and lives in Bowdoinham, was diagnosed with a growth of myelin on her brain when she was four years old and in her teens began to have seizures and was later diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. She lives with intellectual disabilities, seizures, and the side effects of her anti-seizure medication. But after years of volunteering at her local nursing home, she was offered a part time job, and despite being told she would never be able to read, is now on her fourth Harry Potter book. According to her mother, her success has been accomplished with the help of dedicated teachers and therapists – funded almost exclusively through special education in public schools and Medicaid. Furthermore, she was recently accepted at Spindleworks in Brunswick, a non-profit art center for people with disabilities – but, without Medicaid, she would lose access to the valuable day program and risks becoming isolated in her rural home.
In his remarks, Senator King blasted the AHCA for cutting Medicaid funding by $839 billion over ten years, which, for Maine, translates to an estimated loss of between $1 and $3 billion. The reduction in funding would force states to make agonizing choices about how and where to allocate that funding, essentially picking winners and losers – and, to make it worse, the bill does so to help pay for a tax break for those making more than $200,000 a year.
“This is one of the most inequitable, cruel, and just unconscionable pieces of policymaking that I’ve ever seen,” Senator King said. “We are putting people like this [Lidia] at risk in order to have somebody buy another Maserati. It’s unbelievable that this body would even consider making that trade off.”
“If we don’t stand up for Dan, for Lidia, and millions like them, old and young, living in the shadows of our society, asking nothing but to do the things we take for granted – to cross the street, to have a job, to dress, to feel that they are contributing – to take that away,” Senator King said, “that’s nonsense.”
In closing, Senator King implored his colleagues working on a Senate-version of the bill to consider themselves as the last line of defense for people who can’t speak up for themselves and to take a stand people like Dan and Lidia – and many others across Maine with disabilities – by rejecting the painful cuts to Medicaid.