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Health Care Advocates Offer Emotional Testimony

From patients and parents to nurses and practitioners, the many faces of Texans affected by health care budget cuts gathered at the Capitol today to give an earful to lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee.

Disabled man outside room where Senate Finance Committee listens to testimony on February 2, 2011

From patients and parents to nurses and practitioners, the many faces of Texans affected by potential health care budget cuts gathered at the Capitol today to give an earful to lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee. 

The onslaught of emotional testimony appeared to sway some senators, while others had been waiting for such a display. “I’ve never seen the [level of] concern by your presence today," said state Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat who has argued such sweeping cuts aren't necessary. "It will make a difference."

Some people who testified, like Madeleine McClure of the Nurse Family Partnership, emphasized the community impact of their programs and the money saved by their efforts. According to McClure, home visits by nurses to low-income, first-time mothers can save $42,000 over the lifetime of a child and directly affect Medicaid spending: Mothers have fewer babies, are more likely to enter the workforce, are less likely to commit child abuse or neglect and know when, or when not, to go to the emergency room.

“That is exactly the kind of testimony we need,” said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Many people made emotional pleas not to cut the care they are already receiving, like Edwina Rogers, a patient at the Mary Lee Foundation, which provides assistance for children and adults with developmental disabilities. “I don’t want Mary Lee to be cut, because it’s my home. I’ve made a lot of friends here, and I want it to stay open,” she said.

Without the medication they receive through Medicaid, some people testified they couldn’t be the functioning members of society they are now. Take Myra, who has schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and whose $1,300 a month medication allowed her to maintain a 3.9 GPA, become the first in her family to earn a college degree and work as an X-ray technician. "Without this medicine I cannot even write out a sentence," she said. "I fall to pieces and I’m afraid of the whole world.”

Advocates for community-based care, as opposed to institutional settings, also addressed lawmakers, emphasizing cost savings and quality of care. “Instead of cuts, we actually need more slots,” said Gail Harmon, executive director at the Texas Assisted Living Association. After requesting a reconsideration of proposed 10 percent Medicaid provider rate cuts, Harmon said keeping clients at home would cost half of what it does to put them in nursing homes.

Jody Farris, the mother of a blind child with autism and cerebral palsy, testified the state could save $130,000 a year by keeping her son at home. Farris exhausted both her private insurance and savings caring for her son, and moved to Colorado where she could receive Medicaid benefits immediately. 

“We need to talk,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Grapevine, after listening to Farris’ testimony advocating early childhood intervention, which helped her premature son Nolan learn to walk and communicate — neither deemed possible at his birth. He’s now nine, and his music therapy helped him learn to communicate better and play classical piano by ear, his mother said.

The testimony clearly moved lawmakers, but Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, still expressed concern about how to fund programs given the projected revenue shortfall. Even if they find other cost-savers — successfully eliminating Medicaid fraud and unnecessary services — West says there still will not be enough revenue to fund health and human services and education at the levels they need to be funded in order to make certain that Texans are served.

But these advocates didn’t seem as turned off by the option of raising taxes as voters seemed this election cycle. “I’m a big Republican, I’m a big pro-life person, but I’m willing to pay some more taxes because it’s that important,” said Susan Johnson, the mother of Abbey, who receives care from the Mary Lee Foundation. The crowd in the hearing agreed, applauding loudly when West asked if they’d support a tax hike to fund services.

“For this to be successful, it can’t just be those on this panel that hear your words and your position. We’re going to have to build an army,” Whitmire said. “You’ve got to build an expression of concern that you just can’t go just with the cuts. It’s unacceptable to go just with the cuts.”

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Health care State government Department of State Health Services Federal health reform Health And Human Services Commission John Whitmire Judith Zaffirini Medicaid Royce West State agencies