Point of View

Medicaid: Showing we value lives

October 17, 2012 

There’s been a lot of talk about the “moocher” class – those Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes and those who receive some kind of government benefit.

I must confess, I have two moochers living in my house – my sons, Kenny and Theo, ages 13 and 11 respectively.

They both have autism, and they both have cognitive and severe language delays. Because of their disabilities, they receive Medicaid coverage, which pays for speech therapy and occupational therapy as well as their medical care. Medicaid also pays for a service called home and community support, which provides staff who work with the boys on goals like how to make purchases at stores and how to behave appropriately in public.

My sons certainly cost government more than they will ever contribute to it. If you judge a person’s worth by his contributions to the economy, you would find my boys to be of little value.

It’s a twisted idea – that a human being can have little value. In the United States, we have not only a capitalist economy but a capitalist society. But does it make sense to judge the worth of a person – a child with disabilities, a worker struggling to get by on minimum wage, or an adult battling addiction – based on the principles of capitalism?

It’s not unheard of for a society to deny the basic value of individuals. The workers who built the pyramids were considered to be expendable labor. In the United States, we had slavery and child labor. It used to be that men worked dangerous jobs in factories and fields, and if they were killed, oh well.

But we as Americans rejected that way of thinking. We created regulations and inspection processes to make sure people are safe on the job. We passed laws against child labor and made sure all kids went to school, deciding that even the poorest child was worth that investment.

Then we went further and declared that even people with disabilities have value. In 1990, the first President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which opened up the world to people with disabilities by requiring reasonable accommodations so that, to the extent possible, those with disabilities have the same opportunities as those without.

Also in 1990, we created the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which improved on previous law to expand the services for and rights of children with disabilities in public schools.

The basic principle behind these laws is that people with disabilities deserve the chance to grow, thrive and succeed, even if providing that opportunity requires greater investments. As a nation, we decided that, while some people who benefited from these laws would contribute to the economy, even those who would not have basic human value. Their lives, and the quality of their lives, matter.

That idea of human value doesn’t have a place in today’s political conversation. A person’s role in the economy is what matters. Never mind that almost every penny the government pays for my son’s education and care goes to someone’s paycheck. They are, and probably always will be, dependent on the government, and that diminishes their value as people.

As a mother, I worry. I worry my boys aren’t getting everything they need in school because of budget cuts. But even more, I worry about what their lives will be like when they are adults. I worry Medicaid will no longer provide the services they will need to thrive, to be a part of their community and to live lives of basic human dignity.

And when I hear talk about “moochers,” I get angry. It’s a demeaning label, and my children deserve more respect than that. They have value to me as members of my family, and they should have value to you as members of your community. Believe me, they are worthy.

Diane Morris lives in Cary.

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