During the month of February, the Jewish community in Maryland is observing Jewish Disability Awareness Month. This is an opportunity for us to raise awareness of the needs, strengths, opportunities and challenges of individuals with disabilities in our communities and to ensure we are building more inclusive communities that celebrate all of our neighbors.
On February 7, leadership from Jewish communities across America, including representatives of our Baltimore and Rockville Jewish communities, went to Washington to inform our Members of Congress of the critical work of Jewish organizations and social service agencies on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families in our communities, as well as to express how vitally important Medicaid is to people in the disability community, as well as the agencies and communities that serve them.
For many members of our community with disabilities seeking healthy, independent lives, Medicaid is an essential resource.
More than 8 million individuals with disabilities across the U.S. rely on Medicaid as their sole source of comprehensive health and long-term care coverage, with 128,000 people with disabilities covered by Medicaid in Maryland. Medicaid ensures people with disabilities have access to essential services, including transportation, medical care, and personal care assistance. This, in turn, ensures they are able to contribute economically, socially, politically, and spiritually to their community. Without the roughly $20,000 per person Maryland receives in funding from the federal government for people with disabilities on Medicaid, these services and benefits families receive would be severely reduced.
Unfortunately, under several prominent congressional proposals being considered as part of deficit reduction efforts, Medicaid would be restructured by capping funds flowing to states and/or creating a block grant formula. Block granting or capping Medicaid funds would result in the denial of health and long-term care to millions of Americans, including people with disabilities. These kinds of spending cuts and harmful changes to Medicaid would undermine human dignity by limiting the choices and opportunities for people with disabilities.
For instance, Martha (name changed) is a 34-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She is married and her husband has mental health issues and also receives services through THE ASSOCIATED’s Jewish Community Services (JCS).
JCS is able to provide Martha with counseling and assist her in adjusting to the many changes in her life. JCS also helped her apply for in-home supports through the Developmental Disabilities Administration to assist with activities of daily living, such as personal hygiene, medication management and attend medical appointments, etc. With JCS advocating on her behalf, she was approved for 10 hours/week of in-home support as well as other necessary services through Medicaid and an allowance to pay for her medical needs. If she did not have Medicaid, there would significant stress on her family to provide this necessary support.
Leading Jewish organizations, including THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, have made it a priority to fight to protect the services and benefits individuals with disabilities and their families receive under the Medicaid program. We, as a community, believe that while there is still a need to reform the program to ensure it remains sustainable through a time of austerity, the program provides strong services to individuals with disabilities and their families that must remain intact.
Collectively, the Jewish community believes there are a number of effective ways Medicaid can be reformed and at the same time, realize cost-savings. These proposed recommendations range from allowing funding for home- and community-based services to be accessed without a waiver, to promoting preventative measures such as chronic disease management. Other recommendations include enrolling beneficiaries into drug and care management programs, which would, in the end, improve the delivery of services and at the same time, generate savings. Any reforms to Medicaid to make it financially sustainable for future generations must be made with the mindset that Medicaid remains available as a source of health and long-term services for individuals with disabilities and other low-income populations.
Jewish organizations and social service agencies in Maryland stand ready to work with our federal and state governments to ensure individuals with disabilities are able to live healthy, independent lives. We believe all of us have a role to play in ensuring this end, and Medicaid is an essential tool in that effort.
Janet Behrend Livingston
ASSOCIATED Disabilities Task Force