ObamaCare Medicaid expansion hurts people with disabilities and the seriously ill

Nearly eight years after President Obama signed ObamaCare into law, its effects are still impacting Americans in terrible ways. Some of this could not have been avoided by legislators, but much of the pain is self-inflicted.

In a landmark Supreme Court decision, states were given two options: they could expand ObamaCare to more able-bodied adults, or they could instead refuse to implement the program and keep government smaller.

My home state of Arkansas made the wrong choice. In April 2013, the Arkansas General Assembly passed – and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law – ObamaCare expansion in the state.

Arkansas’ so-called “private option” expansion plan at one point placed more than 330,000 able-bodied adults on welfare – costing taxpayers 79 percent more than promised so far. No wonder people have a tough time trusting politicians.

That’s the financial cost and that’s certainly important. But the human cost of Medicaid expansion has been overlooked for far too long.

More than three decades ago, Congress created a special waiver for states that allows them to care for people with serious injuries and severe disabilities. These programs provide services for people with all sorts of problems such as spinal injuries, traumatic brain injuries, severe mental disabilities and more.

The waiver allows seriously ill or disabled people to get much-needed care in their homes at a fraction of the cost of being placed in an institution. Otherwise, they’re forced to either forego care or face institutionalization.

I know firsthand some of the struggles these people and their families face. First, because I served in Arkansas on the Governor’s Commission for People with Disabilities. And second, because I’m permanently disabled after an accident in my early 20s.

After my accident, special waivers helped me overcome my disability and get back to work as a business owner and eventually a legislator with the honor of representing the people of my district in the Arkansas House. Services I received for people with disabilities helped me avoid a lifetime of dependency. Instead I have experienced the dignity of good, honest work.

But because of limited funding, there is a long list of people waiting to get additional services like the ones I received. Nationwide, there are more than 650,000 of these folks – including more than 3,000 living in my home state of Arkansas.

To put that in perspective, there are more folks waiting for Medicaid services in this country than there are people living in the states of Wyoming or Vermont.

I wish the bad news stopped there, but it doesn’t.

A recent report from the Foundation for Government Accountability found that since Medicaid expansion began, at least 21,904 people have died on waiting lists in ObamaCare expansion states nationwide.

Truly needy individuals have died waiting for help while able-bodied adults are added to the welfare rolls by the hundreds of thousands. This is just plain wrong.

Vulnerable citizens should not be placed at the back of the line behind able-bodied, working age adults. But that is exactly what’s happened.

According to state estimates, in Arkansas we could pay down our entire Medicaid waiting list for about $45 million. Instead, we’ll spend roughly $135 million in state funds on just ObamaCare expansion in the next fiscal year.

No need to check your vision – you read that correctly. For only a third of the cost of ObamaCare expansion, every truly needy Arkansan waiting on a waiver could be given the help they desperately need.

This is a picture of just how insanely out-of-whack our priorities have become.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to do the right thing.

I’ve worked tirelessly for intelligent solutions for our Medicaid problems to ensure our truly needy get cared for first. In fact, thanks to the support of my colleagues, the Arkansas House became the first legislative body in the nation to pass a bill that would’ve frozen enrollment in our ObamaCare expansion.

Folks that were on the program would’ve been given time to find other coverage options, but as they did, resources would’ve been freed up for truly vulnerable Arkansans.

While we fell just short in a Senate committee, I intend to bring this commonsense reform back before the Legislature in our next session because it’s the right thing to do.

The Medicaid system is on life support. While the truly vulnerable continue to wait – and even die without services – able-bodied adults are enrolled by the millions. I hope legislators across the country will join with me in fighting ObamaCare and putting the truly needy first.