As Congress continues to battle over the debt ceiling, thousands of kidney patients are left wondering if and when they’ll lose their Medicaid coverage. If these patients are in Arkansas, they’ve probably already been kicked off.
The House plan for the debt ceiling expands existing work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It also institutes new work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries. Many kidney patients rely on Medicaid to cover important services like non-emergency medical transportation to dialysis treatment and long-term services and supports like nursing homes.
This is bad news for the health of people struggling with kidney disease. Research shows Medicaid consistently improves health outcomes for dialysis patients, decreasing the number of patients dying during their first year on dialysis by the hundreds. I repeat: Medicaid saves lives by the hundreds.
Likewise, work requirements for Medicaid access led many patients to lose their coverage and did nothing to boost employment numbers. There is often onerous paperwork and red tape required to prove compliance with work requirements or exemption from them. For some people, navigating this onerous paperwork maze is too much.
Regardless, requiring work or “community engagement” for Medicaid healthcare is not good for patients. Groups are collaborating to tell Congress to vote “No” on any bill instituting such requirements.
Another concern is that the GOP debt ceiling proposal cuts federal spending to Fiscal Year 2022 levels and caps increases in the federal budget to 1% per year, far below the rate of annual inflation. Such cuts and caps would mean large decreases in important health-related programs and could erode the hard-won increases to kidney disease research and the CDC’s awareness, prevention and surveillance programs.
Where do things stand today? As of April 26, the House passed the above-mentioned plan. This means it is now with the Senate for consideration. Please contact Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman and ask them to protect Medicaid and oppose work requirements.
In the aftermath of the March tornadoes in Central Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Sanders said she would prioritize people over paperwork. She should apply that same principle to the health and well-being of our state’s kidney patients.
Elizabeth Fortune lives in Little Rock and serves as an advocate on the Kidney Action Committee for the National Kidney Foundation. She was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease following a lengthy treatment for cancer. She has been on dialysis since April 2014.