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What The Republican Health Bill Means For Gresham Family With Disabled Daughter


13-year-old Bonnie McNutt needs a round-the-clock, personal service worker. The Affordable Care Act provides Medicaid money for those workers, the American Health Care Act probably won't.

13-year-old Bonnie McNutt needs a round-the-clock, personal service worker. The Affordable Care Act provides Medicaid money for those workers, the American Health Care Act probably won’t.

Kristian Foden-Vencil

When the independent Congressional Budget Office released its report on the new ‘American Health Care Act,’ there were two major findings.

First, the bill would take health insurance away from about 23 million people over the next decade. And second, it could reduce the deficit by $119 billion dollars — with the lions share of savings coming from Medicaid.

What the report didn’t get into was what those Medicaid cuts might mean for families like the McNutts in Gresham.

Bonnie McNutt, 13, was born with a congenital disease that results in very stiff joints and extremely weak muscles. She needs a machine to talk and the help of a personal support worker  — around the clock.

“She drools and she’s at high risk of aspiration, getting that liquid into her lungs,” said Bonnie’s mother, Beverly McNutt.

“She’s tube fed, and I blend her food everyday.”

Beverly McNutt needs help lifting her daughter into the car, or out of the bath and getting her dressed. She said life would be very difficult without the personal service workers that help her carry out such tasks.

Berverly McNutt needs help lifting and clothing her daughter. Some of that help comes from canine companion Merv.

Berverly McNutt needs help lifting and clothing her daughter. Some of that help comes from canine companion Merv.

Kristian Foden-Vencil

But Bob Joondeph, the executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, says personal support workers are not cheap and the Republican health care bill would likely mean deep cuts to their ranks.

“There’ll be significantly less money coming from the federal government for Medicaid,” he said. “Which means that not only health services but support services like in-home support services will be cut back unless the state can step up and fill the gap, which will be pretty large.”

That’s not likely to happen because the state of Oregon is struggling with its own budget shortfall.

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Oregon ranks fourth in the nation for states with the most to lose from ending the Medicaid expansion.

That’s because many Oregonians live in rural areas where more than 30 percent of people are on Medicaid.

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says that between the Republican health care bill and the Trump budget, Medicaid would be slashed, “So you have a trillion dollars worth of cuts in Medicaid, while you have hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy. So there’s a real imbalance here,” he said.

Oregon Congressman, Greg Walden, co-authored the initial Republican health care bill that never came up for a vote in the House. He has indicated he supports this latest version, but calls and emails requesting comment for this story were not returned.

Exactly what will happen to the McNutt family is hard to know, largely because Senate deliberations have been held in secret.  

“There haven’t been any public hearings. There’ve been no drafts released,” said Sabrina Corlette, a health professor at Georgetown University.

“We don’t have a whole lot to go on in terms of trying to assess where they might be headed beyond what has already been passed by the house.”

But Corlette said anytime you’re “messing with” 17 percent of the American economy, you’re going to see winners and losers, “If you are healthy, young and relatively wealthy you do fairly well under the House passed bill,” she said.

“If you are older and sicker and lower income, you do worse,” said Corlette.

Back at the McNutt household in Gresham, Bonnie is enjoying her new three wheeler as Beverly watches. But Beverly is worried about what’s going to happen in Congress, “I just can’t imagine,” she said. 

“I can’t imagine where their hearts are. These kids need help. And anyone that’s disabled needs a certain degree of help.”

Recent talk has Senate Republicans fast tracking the bill, meaning they could pass it without any Democratic votes.

Looking back to 2010, Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act without a single Republican vote.

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