Powerless. That’s how I feel. I watch as my 3 1/2 year-old-daughter with Down syndrome, Sienna, avoids saying one word to her speech therapist. She’s so stubborn. She isn’t making progress. Her peers try to communicate with her and her responses are unintelligible. I know it will come. It will come in her own time.
Sienna doesn’t see the giant clock counting down over her head. She doesn’t know it’s there. How much time do we have left? Her outpatient therapists are her biggest cheerleaders. Yet, they could be ripped away from us in the blink of an eye.
How? Medicaid. A controversial topic today. This post isn’t meant to be politically divisive. It’s meant to explain why this government program is so important to our family and families like ours. If you’re anything like I was before I entered this world, you might not know.
When Sienna was born, one of the nurses said to me, “You won’t have to worry about the overwhelming costs associated with raising a child with a disability – all the therapies and medical equipment. You live in one of the best states (Pennsylvania) in the country for services.” At the time, in the fog of Sienna’s diagnosis, I didn’t realize the significance of that conversation.
Pennsylvania is one of the few states that provide Medicaid to families raising a child with a disability, regardless of their income. You might think that’s unfair. If we have a decent income, we should pay for our child, right? What you might not know is Sienna’s primary insurance only covers 20 therapy sessions per year. This is typical of most insurance companies. Sienna receives seven therapies per week. We’d burn through what our insurance covers in three weeks. After that, we’d be paying out of pocket.
How much? $3,400 per week or roughly $163,000 per year. I have the EOB statements to prove it. Someone in my life once said to me, “So what? You can afford it. Sell your boat.” If only it were that simple. I’d give up the boat in a heartbeat. I’m not even talking about the dozens of extra doctor visits and medical equipment like her walker, adaptive stroller, nebulizer, and orthotics. Sienna’s needs are minimal compared to other kids in the different abilities community.
Another mom and I spoke with a government official a few weeks back over a conference call asking if the proposed Medicaid cuts could affect our families. He informed us that the possibility of our kids losing access to these services is very real. Medicaid operates with funding from states and the federal government. For each dollar a state spends on Medicaid, it receives a matching amount of federal funds—without limit.
The current administration wants to convert Medicaid to a block grant system. The least complicated way to explain it is to say this….it would put caps on everything. They wouldn’t be obligated to match that funding, and because Pennsylvania spends so much, they don’t have any extra to cover the gap that would be left by the federal government. Families like mine would be first on the chopping block. We have a decent income and no complex medical needs. When and if this happens, we will be forced to cut therapies. I will have to decide if using a utensil to eat or talking to her peers is more important. We would never be able to provide her with everything she needs. She would suffer in the long run.
Study after study has shown the importance of early intervention. Childhood therapies are linked to positive outcomes in the following areas; cognition and academic achievement, behavioral and emotional competencies, educational progression and attainment, child maltreatment, health, delinquency and crime, social welfare program use, and labor market success. It benefits all of us to give children the proper supports they need to succeed. If I want my daughter to contribute to society, as an adult, these therapies will help her get there.
Last week, Sienna and her speech therapist had a groundbreaking session. After months of presenting Sienna with options, asking her to verbally acknowledge her choice, she finally gave in and spoke her preference. It was magical. It’s crossed over at home, school, in other therapies, and in her behavior. She was starting to develop some concerning behaviors because she couldn’t communicate her needs. Because of speech therapy, actually BECAUSE OF MEDICAID, she was able to mitigate those behavior issues. She has developed a sense of independence. She deserves that. She deserves to gain those skills in her own time, not the government’s time.
If you want to know how you can help, share. Share this blog piece. Call your lawmakers and tell them you do not support the proposed changes to Medicaid. My family thanks you for reading this.