The mentally and physically disabled, many of them in wheelchairs, came to the Capitol Wednesday to lobby the legislature against Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposed cuts in TennCare benefits.
“It’s time we speak out about things that will seriously impact people who have no control over their situations,” said Anthony Fox, director of the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association.
Bredesen’s recommended cuts include a $10,000 annual cap on inpatient hospital and psychiatric hospital services; elimination of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy coverage; elimination of hospice care; and an annual limit of eight doctor's office and nonemergency hospital visits.
“Folks with mental illness, folks with disabilities, families and children are really bearing the brunt of those cuts,” said Carol Westlake, director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition.
“The TennCare Bureau tells us over and over again that it affects a very small proportion of the people on TennCare. The truth is, the people it does affect are the people who are the sickest, the people who are the most disabled and the people who need TennCare the most.
“TennCare touches the lives of vulnerable Tennesseans over and over again, and we think it’s not appropriate to balance the budget in this state on the backs of its most vulnerable citizens. We understand the economic situation the state is in. We know the entire nation is suffering. But you can’t go after the weakest when you’re trying to balance that budget.”
Westlake said many disabled people cannot afford even a proposed a $2 co-pay on nonemergency transportation to the doctor’s office.
“You earn $674 a month maximum [in Social Security benefits],” she said. “I would challenge anyone in this room to pay their rent, to pay for food, to be able to have clothes occasionally and keep in toothpaste and also pay your co-pay every time you have to go to the doctor or every time you need your blood drawn to make sure that your psychotropic drugs are still appropriate for you. There’s a lot of talk about how everybody ought to pay something and everybody ought to have some skin in the game. There are people without skin.”
The governor has said he has little choice but to cut TennCare to balance the state budget, which is reeling with the economic recession. "TennCare is such a big piece of the budget, you can't get from here to there without substantial cuts in TennCare," he said.