Furious disability advocates will protest health care bill at senators’ offices

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Scott Crawford of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities

As opposition over the new Senate health care bill mounts around the country, Mississippi’s health care and disability rights advocates are planning a series of local protests over a bill they have called “cruel” and “horrifying.”

For the first time in several years, advocates from a dozen disability rights groups in Mississippi convened Tuesday to hammer out their biggest issues with the proposed legislation. Topping the long list was the worry that the bill, if passed, will severely diminish the federal Medicaid program, which currently provides services to 180,000 Mississippians with disabilities.

“Unease isn’t a strong enough word. I’m absolutely horrified by what this bill is going to do to people,” said Scott Crawford of the Mississippi Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, who was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis in 2002. “And anyone who cares about the health care industry should be just as concerned as we are about this.”

On Thursday, the disability rights advocates, operating under the newly formed Medicaid Matters for Mississippians, have planned back-to-back rallies at the offices of Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker in Jackson. During the rallies, four advocates will lay out their opposition to the health care legislation in a meeting with each senator’s chief of staff. Rallies are also planned at the senators’ regional offices.

Cochran has yet to publicly endorse the Senate health bill, but Wicker has given the new legislation his full support.

“In almost every regard, this draft legislation represents another step to move us away from the unworkable aspects of Obamacare and toward a smaller government approach. If enacted, Americans would be far better off than they are under the failing Obamacare status quo,” Wicker said in a statement Thursday.

Mississippi Coalition’s Scott Crawford stresses the urgency of the situation: “The current bill is before the Senate right now, so we have a narrow window of opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “Obviously, they’re the decision makers, our senators. They’re the people that we need to influence at this time.”

While Medicaid Matters for Mississippians was meeting Tuesday morning, the Rev. C.J. Rhodes of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson was organizing faith leaders across the state to sign a letter to the senators opposing the legislation.

For Rhodes, opposition to the Better Care Reconciliation Act is a moral issue.

“We believe, those of us in the Christian community, that (this bill) goes against everything we believe about how you treat the the poor, the widowed, the orphans,” Rhodes said. “Even in our political economy we need to make sure that if we’re going to make America great again, as Trump said, that greatness is measured by how you’re going to treat the least among us.”

The Better Care Reconciliation Act, which Republican senators unveiled Thursday, aims to replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act with less costly legislation that proponents say will save taxpayers money and reduce the federal deficit. But opponents argue any cuts only benefit the wealthiest taxpayers while leaving millions uninsured.

An analysis from the Congressional Budget Office released Monday backs up both sides. The new legislation would reduce federal spending by $321 billion over the next decade. But it also would leave 22 million currently insured Americans without any health insurance over that same time period, including 15 million people who now receive Medicaid.

Mississippi House

Rep. Jarvis Dortch

“If you look at Medicaid as a health insurance plan and you start with the fact that you want everyone to have access to health care, taking that away just so the wealthy can get a tax cut, that’s immoral,” said state Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Jackson. “If you tell us we can’t afford to do this, well, that’s one thing. But when you say the 400 richest families are going to get tax cuts … that’s obscene to me.”

Although senators were originally scheduled to vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act before next week’s recess, on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced plans to postpone the vote. Since Thursday, several prominent Republicans have publicly pulled their support for the bill.

Neither Cochran nor Wicker is expected to be in Mississippi on Thursday, but Crawford said he felt confident the message would make it to Washington in time for their vote next week.

“We’re going to try to convince (Wicker and Cochran) of the truth that these cuts are going to have devastating effects upon our most disadvantaged Mississippians,” Crawford said. “We’re talking about one-fourth of Mississippians (who receive Medicaid benefits). How can he do this to us? How can he even consider doing this to us?”