I published something today about the sad demise of the the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (CLASS). CLASS was a component of health reform designed to help people who live with a variety of disabilities live more independently and (whenever possible) to stay in their homes. It’s a brilliant article. I hope that you read it.
Then, by chance I encountered a Sun-Times interview today with Illinois’ Republican Senator Mark Kirk. About a year ago, Kirk suffered a stroke. He’s been slowly and courageously recuperating ever since. He suffers from paralysis on the left side of his body. He has difficulties with the left side of his face.
In describing his ordeal and his recovery, Kirk noted the following:
“I will look much more carefully at the Illinois Medicaid program to see how my fellow citizens are being cared for who have no income and if they suffer from a stroke,” Kirk said.
He said in general a person on Medicaid would be allowed 11 rehab visits in Illinois. “Had I been limited to that I would have had no chance to recover like I did. So unlike before suffering the stroke, I’m much more focused on Medicaid and what my fellow citizens face.” [italics added.]
The simple truth in these comments commands respect. Kirk required aggressive rehabilitation services at one of America’s finest facilities for patients recovering from stroke. Such a profound physical ordeal–and one’s accompanying sense of profound privilege in securing more help than so many other people routinely receive—this changes a person.
Politicians and policy analysts often speak in the abstract about difficult tradeoffs and the need to trim waste in programs such as Medicaid. I’ve expressed contempt for conservatives who conduct such conversations at such very great personal distance from the people intimately affected by service cuts in essential programs. Of course, we liberals conduct many of these same conversations at the same psychological distance, too.
Caring for my brother-in-law Vincent has certainly changed my perspective. Whatever the issues are, they aren’t about some group of faceless other people anymore.
Vincent, intellectually disabled since birth, has not physically suffered in the way Senator Kirk has. He does face other challenges. Vincent is, officially, a pauper. He swipes his food assistance and his Social Security over to the group home that provides for his daily needs.
He is entitled to keep $50 per month for personal discretionary spending. That’s not a lot. It’s expected to cover every shirt, McDonald’s hamburger, or ESPN magazine. That $50 is even less now. Vincent requires podiatry care for a complicated toe problem that has already required multiple hospitalizations. Illinois Medicaid no longer pays the $17/month he requires for this care. Illinois has dropped adult dental coverage—another punishing blow for too many people.
Vincent has us to help him address these difficulties. Many of his friends and housemates aren’t so lucky. They’ve outlived their primary caregivers, or they’ve outlived these relationships. For some, their closest contact with a living relative is a birthday card and maybe a Christmas dinner.
I wish Senator Kirk all the best in his return to work this week. I should mention that I didn’t vote for him. Indeed, I walked door-to-door for his Democratic opponent. I will do so again.
Yet as Washington gets down to brass tacks in negotiating budgets and social policy, I’m glad that Senator Kirk will be there. I hope his personal experiences will help him temper his party’s tough positions on Medicaid and so many other things. He has special reason to know better.