As my grandmother's world darkens, Medicaid helps preserve her dignity

Posted June 23

My grandmother took me on my first big adventure. We went to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and wore those goofy plastic ponchos. Mine was banana yellow.

My grandmother, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, did not then -- and still does not -- speak English. That didn't stop her from taking a Greyhound bus from New York City with her five-year-old granddaughter to see the falls she'd heard so much about. She is barely 4 - feet tall, but towered in my mind because of her fearlessness.

These days, Alzheimer's cripples that adventurous spirit, determination and strong will. My grandmother is 90 years old and she can no longer care for herself.

A world-class chef by my lights, she used to whip up fancy cakes for every family gathering. With ease, she made a Dominican snack known as "kipe" that requires a dizzying amount of steps. Today, she cannot even remember how to use a stove. Even if she could, we would not let her near one for fear she would burn herself. Someone needs to be with her at all times to keep her safe and cook her meals because she forgets to eat during the day.

A few days ago, she could not remember her mother's name or when she died. I am steeling myself for the day she looks through me and does not recognize me.

This is the real-world impact of the GOP's proposed cuts to Medicaid. Republicans in Congress want to effectively dismantle the program. On Thursday, the Senate released its secret health care bill, which would drastically cut federal support of Medicaid and eliminate Obamacare's individual mandate and taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others. The President's draconian budget calls for $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid, making it clear Republicans will attack the program from all sides. Their disdain and cruel disregard of a program that provides care for the most vulnerable in our society would leave seniors like my grandmother defenseless.

Seniors would be among those hardest hit by the GOP's cruelty. People do not think of the elderly when they think about the services Medicaid provides. But about 4.6 million seniors who receive Medicare, the federal health insurance for seniors, also receive Medicaid.

Medicaid is especially important to seniors like my grandmother, who need long-term care. Medicaid pays for costs not covered by Medicare, including nursing homes, home health aides, personal care and family caregiving. It also pays for visits to eye doctors and dentists, as well as prescription drugs, eyeglasses and hearing aids.

My grandmother's aide makes her meals, washes her clothes and cleans her house. The aide takes her on little adventures: walks around the block and trips to a local recreation center, even visits to a restaurant every week. They are small activities meant to enlist my grandmother's enthusiasm and energy for adventure and give her a sense of the independence that was her hallmark.

My grandmother raised two daughters, helped raise five grandchildren and dotes on her 10 great-grandchildren. Her life, from abject poverty to immigrant in the United States, has not always been smooth. She worked long hours in hot factories to achieve what she thought was her American Dream.

As her world is slowly darkening around her, Medicaid allows her to maintain her dignity. She deserves to keep it that way. My hope is that Republicans in the Senate consider my grandmother and the millions of seniors and vote against any health care plan that decimates funding for Medicaid.


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