About two dozen activists from labor and community groups gathered on South Salina Street downtown Monday to mark the 53rd birthday of Medicaid and Medicare. They’re increasingly worried that the health care safety net programs for the elderly, poor, and those with disabilities are in line for severe budget cuts.
The activists say Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration are looking to gut Medicare and Medicaid to fill the nearly $2 trillion debt created by the tax reform bill. They're targeting Congressmember John Katko who supported the measure, but has opposed cutting the health care programs. Former congressional candidate and Founder of social security works Eric Kingson says he can’t have it both ways.
"Anyone who supported the tax act...it doesn't matter what they say, it doesn't matter if they voted against eliminating the Affordable Care Act. If they voted for that [tax reform bill], they voted against every American having health care. They've placed these programs and soecial security on the chopping block."
That access is key for someone like activist Mary House. She has Type 4 Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an incurable, potentially fatal genetic condition that affects connective tissues.
"I sadly am without health insurance now, so I'm unable to see the specialist I normally go to. So this does bring up issues with any new pain, and I don't know how to treat it beacuse I don't have the money to go to the doctor."
House says the best way to manage her disease is through preventative care. Katie Barrett’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor about 25 years ago. She didn’t have health insurance.
"Medicaid stepped in and basically saved her life. She got the best neurosurgeon in Syracuse just by walking into Crouse Hospital emergency room. He was on a rotation, and he got my mom. He never, ever turned her down. She had three brain tumors removed, and he cared for her until the end."
That’s the kind of care Dr. Bonnie Grossman says should be available to everyone regardless of condition. She’s practiced emergency medicine for 38 years, and recently retired from her post Assistant Chief Medical Officer at SUNY Upstate. She says a single payer program would be a first step toward controlling skyrocketing health care costs.
"The reality is our federal government already has a single-payer program partially deployed. We need to harness it, improve it, and restructure it, and then take care of the heatlh care of all of us. We need to take the profit motive out of our health care, especially when it comes to essential prescription medications and treatments."
Grossman says for-profit private insurers have more than five times the overhead than government programs, and can lead to less access, more out of pocket expenses, and poorer outcomes. But an analysis out Monday from George Mason University shows a medicare for all program with no copays and no deductibles would boost government spending roughly $3 trillion a year, requiring a tax hike to pay for it.