Swearingen

Kevin Swearingen speaks about his rights as an Idahoan with disabilities in a scene from “Blessings of Liberty.”

Disability support groups from across Idaho held a video screening and panel discussion Thursday night to raise awareness of a Medicaid proposal that could threaten those residents.

The film, entitled “Blessings of Liberty,” was created in partnership with DisAbility Rights Idaho, the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Center on Disabilities and Human Development and screened on the second floor of the Willard Arts Center.

In the video, more than a dozen people with disabilities and family members from across Idaho were interviewed to show the important role that Medicaid access played in their lives. It also argued that in-home services supported by Medicaid were better for the residents and the state finances than state-run institutions such as the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center.

One of the people interviewed in the video, Kevin Swearingen of Shelley, also attended the event as one of the panelists. Swearingen uses a wheelchair due to the effects of cerebral palsy. He said he was an advocate for himself and other Idaho residents who rely on Medicaid programs for transportation, medical visits and services that allow them to take part in their community.

“I want to show people that I’m out here trying to get things done in the community and not just sitting at home,” he said.

The concern for the advocacy groups in the room came from the idea of Medicaid block grants. Those grants would be a single annual payment from the federal government that the Department of Health and Welfare would use to cover every aspect of Medicaid in the state. Proponents of the measure in Tennessee, the only state that has pushed for block grants so far, argued the grant would give them more flexibility with how the money was spent within the state and place a cap on total spending.

In a town hall meeting with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo in Grant earlier Thursday, state Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, called for more state control over Medicaid.

“If we had a block grant in Idaho we could manage so much better than having the federal government tell us what to do,” Furniss said.

DisAbility Rights Executive Director Jim Baugh and other advocates worried that the optional long-term support programs, which are only available to residents with disabilities, would be the first programs cut once the block grant got low on funds during the year. Under the current system, the federal government pays for 70 percent of all Medicaid services.

“You can’t get savings in the Idaho Medicaid program by trying to cut red tape or bureaucracy. The only way to make meaningful savings is to cut the services,” Baugh said in a video on block grants that screened before the film.

In addition to supporters of those groups and relatives of eastern Idaho residents with disabilities, the event was attended by state Reps. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls; Jerald Raymond, R-Menan; and Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, along with state Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom. Marshall and Raymond both said they had not heard any serious discussion in the Legislature about bringing block grants to Idaho and did not think the issue would come up soon.

“If there’s any section of our society that needs help and needs that funding, it’s the people out here tonight,” Marshall said.

At the end of the presentation, advocates passed out pledges for the attendees to sign saying they would support the rights of Idahoans with disabilities and oppose any block grant program that may end up in Idaho. The three representatives chose to not to sign, with Raymond explaining he had a policy against signing a pledge for any cause to avoid political blowback.

Contact Brennen with news tips at 208-542-6711.

Kauffman reports on health care and city events for the Post Register.