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Md.’s Medicaid defenders mobilize

Fraser Smith Big


SALISBURY — Joana Weaver wanted to applaud a grassroots victory on the health care front, but she couldn’t quite manage it.

“I’m still scared,” she said.

The Republican effort to scale back Medicaid fell — but just barely. Weaver worries the GOP Congress and President Donald Trump won’t give up, won’t listen to the polling that shows their bill has close to single-digit support. She has no faith in the current government.

“I’m worried there will be a back-door deal,” she said.

Or, more worrisome, a front-door deal. Negotiations might simply make a bad bill less bad.

The people’s representatives appear to have scant regard for those who, like Weaver, find Maryland’s aid-to-the poor Medicaid program ripe for a $1.2 billion haircut. That’s how many federal dollars arrive every year to support the program.

Weaver, a cerebral palsy survivor who has used a wheelchair for decades, wonders if she could keep her part-time teaching job — or simply keep up with the demands of her complicated life — if Medicaid shrinks.

State Sen. Jim Mathias, who represents Salisbury and other parts of the Eastern Shore, gave Weaver and people like her around the country credit for stopping the cutback “reform” bill.

“It’s really the people of America who stood for what they believe in and I appreciate that,” he said.

Rally organizer

So does Vincent De Marco, president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, which helped persuade the General Assembly to increase the number of Marylanders on Medicaid by tens of thousands.

This happened when lawmakers increased the income eligibility criteria from 100 percent of the federal poverty rate to 133 percent.

His organization came to Salisbury yesterday for the second of a series of rallies designed to show how many Marylanders depend on Medicaid. And, he said, to show how Medicaid saves taxpayers.

“With Medicaid there is far less uncompensated care provided in hospital emergency rooms (where people without insurance are often treated),” he said. The uncompensated expenses are absorbed by the rest of us in our insurance rates.

Yesterday’s rally was held in the congressional district of Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a fan of the now-stalled bill. He was invited to the meeting but sent word he would not attend. At an earlier rally, Harris constituents protested his position vociferously.

DeMarco said, “We believe Representative Harris should be ashamed of himself for voting for that bill. Medicaid saves people like Joana Weaver from real disaster.”

And it protects Chris Sabas, 43, as she endures a debilitating neurological condition. Loss of sensation in her arms and legs, involuntary movement and fatigue have gone undiagnosed by various doctors, she said.

Mary Ashanti, head of Salisbury’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, invited the congressman.

She said she wasn’t surprised that he didn’t show up.

“I’m used to him not showing up,” she said. “He should at least have sent a representative. He should at least have done that. Every congressman owe their constituents that.”

Quarrel with CBO

Harris’ office disputed the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the Senate bill’s impact. He said both the House and Senate bills allow Medicaid spending to increase 50 percent over the next 10 years.

Republicans have made a practice of accusing the nonpartisan budget office of miscalculating the impact of the GOP’s legislative proposals. A somewhat odd tactic that may be explained by the GOP’s effort to satisfy the Big Cut Caucus and the Smaller Cut advocates.

Salisbury’s mayor, Jake Day, showed up. Observing that as much as 23 percent of the country relies on Medicaid, he suggested the program might be fertile ground for organizing opposition.

But Joana Weaver and others can be forgiven if they think the recent success will have no impact on Republican members of Congress. Poll numbers and angry rallies don’t appear to concern many Republican members of congress.

Day, a Democrat, acknowledged that Obamacare isn’t perfect. “We don’t have it all figured out,” he said. “But the Republicans are pushing in the wrong direction.”

The fearsome climate seemed likely to continue, said Weaver, 49.

“Maybe those of us who are doing this can start yelling louder,” she said.

De Marco said his series of meetings will proceed.

‘We’re never going to back off,” he said.

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at

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