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For Americans with Disabilities and their Families, Medicaid Matters

Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett shares stories from across the country, demonstrating that Americans with disabilities depend on programs such as Medicaid.

This week, my colleagues and I met with families from all over the country that are affiliated with the American Association of People with Disabilities, Easter Seals, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

Their stories sent the message that social safety net programs such as Medicaid are more than just numbers in a budget. I’m honored to share some of those stories with all of you.

Linda Guzman told us about her son Javi, who has both autism and a connective tissue disorder. Medicaid pays for medications, surgeries, and therapies to help him stay healthy, and for personal care services to help him stay productive. Without Medicaid, Linda would have to quit her job and go on public assistance to care for him full time.

Shannon Saunders, a 13 year-old from Columbus, Ohio, was another one of our guests at the White House. When Shannon was two, doctors diagnosed her with cerebral palsy, and thought she would never be able to walk or talk. But eleven years later, I watched as she stood from her wheelchair and proudly told me that Medicaid had helped prove her doctors wrong. Her mother was able to ensure that she received treatment in order to live up to her full potential. When she grows up, she intends to become a teacher, and live independently.

There’s no question that to tackle our nation’s debt, we will have to make some tough choices. But are there any Americans who really believe that we should ask Linda to quit her job when we need everyone contributing to our economy, or that we should ask Shannon to sacrifice her future just so that a millionaire can receive another tax cut?

Yet these are exactly the kind of sacrifices that the House Republican plan would demand from Linda, Shannon, and thousands of families like theirs. President Obama simply does not believe that this is fair.

Slashing Medicaid for Americans with disabilities and their families is also bad economics. If Linda is forced to leave the workforce, and Shannon doesn’t get the health care she needs in order to join the workforce when she grows up, they would both ultimately be receiving government benefits, rather than contributing to society.  This would place a large cost on taxpayers over the long run.

In Washington, it’s easy to frame every debate in terms of political winners and losers. But stories such as Linda’s and Shannon’s are powerful reminders of what really is at stake.

As President Obama works toward a deal that allows our country to live within its means, he’ll remember the Americans who depend on programs such as Medicaid. We hope that courageous families like the ones I met this week will inspire all our elected officials to put partisanship aside, and do what is best for our country.