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COMMENTARY: Saving Medicaid today will protect Nevada tomorrow

An effort is underway in Washington to undermine the Medicaid program. Together the House-passed American Health Care Act and President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal would cut federal Medicaid spending by half in 10 years.

But the funding cut is not the most alarming part of these policy proposals. The House bill would also shift Medicaid from a guaranteed benefit available to seniors, children and people with disabilities to a fixed — and much smaller — pot of money that could be used to pay for some services for some of the people eligible for the program.

Proponents of this measure argue that Medicaid spending is unsustainable and that the program is in need of reform.

This is not reform. This is an effort to strip away a program that serves the most vulnerable Nevadans.

Nationwide, Medicaid covers two-thirds of seniors in nursing homes, 39 percent of American children and more than 10 million people with disabilities.

In Nevada, Medicaid provides health care and long-term services and supports up to 19.4 percent of the population.

Many of those Nevadans who rely on Medicaid are the ones we serve at Lutheran Social Services of Nevada. For 20 years we have cared for people in the urban-core areas of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. The people we aid range from children to seniors — and we provide a range of services from nutrition to in-home, non-medical assistance.

We are proud of the work that we do in the community — and of the impact we are able to have. But we cannot do our work alone. We rely on the support of individuals, businesses — and government. It is only when we work together that we can care for those in need.

That’s why the proposed changes to Medicaid are so troubling. If government vacates its seat at the table, faith-based nonprofit organizations like ours will not be able to fulfill our missions.

We will be forced to turn people in need away. And while doing so would be heartbreaking for us, it will be devastating for the people we serve.

The people we — and other nonprofit organizations — serve won’t go away just because the federal Medicaid funding that cares for them does. The seniors who are denied access to nursing homes, the children who are deprived basic health care services and the people with disabilities who lose the services that allow them to live independently will remain in our communities. But their conditions will deteriorate. Their quality of life will suffer. Their families will be forced to make impossible decisions about how to care for them and meet their needs.

And, ultimately, the problem will grow until there is no other choice for government to step back in. By then, and if it’s not too late, the costs — both economic and human — will be many times greater than today.

There are always opportunities to modernize and improve government programs. We would welcome a broader policy conversation on Medicaid, but we oppose proposals that would remove government from the partnership that cares for the most vulnerable Nevadans.

The fate of Medicaid — and the seniors, children and people with disabilities who rely on the program — is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate. We therefore urge Nevada Sens. Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto to reject the AHCA’s Medicaid provisions or any proposal that would cut, cap or restructure the program.

Armena Mnatsakanyan is executive director of Lutheran Social Services of Nevada.

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