Back in January 2016, insurgent presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced a plan to expand Medicare to all Americans, regardless of age or disability. On the right, it was widely derided as a government takeover of health care. Among the Democratic Party establishment, it was dismissed as so radical that it wasn’t even worth considering.
Yet, come posturing time for the 2020 elections, the progressives have grown in influence, and recent polls find that a majority of Americans support the general idea of “Medicare for all.” This evolution has made support for universal healthcare a litmus test for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Though getting any serious health care reform through Congress would require almost everything falling the Democrats’ way, it’s worth taking a look at where the disability community sits in the current health care debate.
For the disability community, there are encouraging signs as “Medicare for all” moves from a slogan to policy proposals. The original “Medicare for all” bill by Bernie Sanders didn’t include LTSS, but long-term care services were added after intense lobbying from the disability community. The Jayapal and DeLauro bills were both written with input from the disability community. Of the Jayapal bill, Ady Barkan, a disability-rights activist with ALS who worked with the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities on the bill, told The Intercept: “She wrote it with our community holding the pen. Over months, disability rights activists went back and forth on the language. We are included. Not just as a sidebar or footnote.”
Organizations like the CCD, of which United Spinal Association is a contributing member, have been doing the detail work of disability activism in Washington for decades. The CCD outlined the health care needs of the disability community, and its members have been hounding policy-makers to ensure that these priorities are included in any reforms. This is a different method of self-determination than the protests over the ACA repeal efforts — less headline ready and a whole lot more granular — but it’s just as important. “You need both,” says Rebbeca Cokley, a longtime disability-rights advocate who now works at the Center for American Progress. “Movements don’t survive on advocacy or protest alone, they need both in order to thrive.”
Political momentum for a system-wide transformation is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. If it is done right, universal health coverage has the potential to transform disability in America in a way we haven’t seen since the ADA was signed. Making sure whatever comes next addresses the needs of the disability community won’t be easy, but what else is new?
Image credit: Photo by Mark Weber