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McMorris Rodgers leery of health reform

Coverage for disabled people concerns lawmaker

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers warned this week that health care reform could limit treatment for disabled children, but people who advocate for the disabled say it will expand coverage.

As Congress continued to debate health care reform, McMorris Rodgers hosted a news conference last week with more than 10 families who said they were afraid changes to the existing system would mean less care for their disabled children, whose medical conditions include cystic fibrosis, spina bifida and Down syndrome.

“It doesn’t matter that rationing’s not spelled out in the bill; rationing will happen,” said Jeanne Bolewitz, of Rochester Hills, Mich., whose son Joshua has Down syndrome.

But national disability advocates see more good than harm in the proposals currently before Congress. Changing the system is “critically important” for people with disabilities and provides a platform to push for some long-standing goals of the disability community, said Liz Savage, of the Arc of The United States.

The National Organization on Disability estimates about 40 percent of people with severe disabilities did not have access to adequate care in 2000. Many children with disabilities are covered by their parents’ health insurance plans, but most adults with disabilities get insurance through Medicaid if they can’t work enough to receive it through their employer, said Lance Morehouse, advocacy director for the Arc of Spokane.

The current system is full of problems, said Madeleine Will, policy director for the National Down Syndrome Society. “I’m very hopeful that this massive process and debate will produce something that’s better than the status quo,” she said.

McMorris Rodgers, who has a son with Down syndrome and last year started a congressional caucus concerned with that condition, agrees the current system has major problems. There is broad consensus in Congress about the need to reform the health insurance market, she said, but she’s concerned about a “one-size-fits-all” health plan she contends would limit patients’ ability to choose a doctor or have access to specialized care.

The Republican congresswoman acknowledged there’s nothing in the leading proposals that would do that, but insisted it’s a concern that should be kept in mind.

“If we get to a point where there’s single-payer, we’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it,” she said in an interview. “One option is to raise taxes, and the other is to begin limiting care.”

A single-payer system isn’t even an issue, Savage said: “No one’s talking about single-payer. That’s so far to the left it’s not even an option.”

President Barack Obama said in his recent speech that people can keep their insurance if they want to. But shaking up the insurance market could cause employers to switch where they buy coverage for workers, according to FactCheck.org, a Web site devoted to checking political statements.

“I really question whether or not people will be able to keep their current plans,” McMorris Rodgers said.

To meet the higher medical needs of people with disabilities, she said she supports creating tax-exempt savings accounts, similar to IRAs, that can be used to pay for specialized care and treatment.

“When you think about the disability community, they’re especially concerned about losing access to specialist providers,” McMorris Rodgers said.

As far as Savage knows, there’s no language in any of the bills that would be bad for the disability community, she said. And the recently released Finance Committee plan would greatly expand Medicaid eligibility, giving more people with disabilities access to health care, she said.

Jacob Barker is a graduate student at the University of Missouri’s Washington, D.C., reporting program. He can be reached at (202) 662-7303.


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