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Utah Legislature: Disabled Utahns rally against proposed Medicaid cuts

Stevie Edwards, center, and the Disabled Rights Action Committee and the Anti-Hunger Action Committee rally Tuesday.
Stevie Edwards, center, and the Disabled Rights Action Committee and the Anti-Hunger Action Committee rally Tuesday.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of disabled Utahns raised their voices and a ruckus outside the Senate chamber Tuesday afternoon to protest pending Medicaid budget cuts, in programs that some said they literally can't live without.

The savings gained from the cuts are a drop in the bucket of proposals to make up a $700 million budgetary shortfall, rally members said, and amount to lawmakers stepping over a dollar to save a dime.

"And they are compounding the problem by supporting bills against health care reform," said Stevie Edwards, a West Jordan resident who said he came to the Capitol to "do what I can to make sure that they understand that their positions have real-life consequences for those of us who depend on a little assistance just to get by."

The group gathered at the Senate chamber doors with a personal invitation to Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, to drop his sponsorship of HB67. The bill, which is a protest of its own against pending but currently stalled health care reforms in Congress, was approved 53-20 in the House on Feb. 11.

Several attending the rally, which was organized by the Disabled Rights Action Committee and the Anti-Hunger Action Committee, said the bill is premature, likely unconstitutional and makes outlandish claims without any convincing evidence to back them up.

The coalition's chairwoman, Barbara Toomer, who has been a wheelchair-bound disabled rights activist for years, said she has all but given up on state lawmakers putting Medicaid-funded programs on the chopping block in good times and bad.

"By bringing health care reform into this new push for state sovereignty, lawmakers should know they are reaching for that high ideal by standing on the backs of the disabled and the 258,000 uninsured citizens who would finally have coverage under federal reforms," Toomer said.

There are much better ways to spend $3 million than fighting with the federal government, especially in the middle of difficult economic times, and especially with pending state cuts approach $29 million.

"This is not national health care reform leadership, and HB67 is a lie," said protestor Jason Weeks, a disabled local keyboard player and Web-based music promoter.

"I'm just here to be part of the group that has to constantly fight tooth and nail to keep on being able to fight tooth and nail their whole lives," Weeks said. "The federal options are not the obscenity some lawmakers are trying to make them out to be. Besides that, it hasn't even happened yet, and who knows if it will."

Utah lawmakers pride themselves on being health care reform leaders in their own right, said Bill Tibbetts, head of the anti-hunger coalition. "So far, the main health care reform solution is to do less every year."

Meanwhile, Edwards said, "What does it hurt just to talk to us. My friend here almost died last week from an abscessed tooth that he couldn't get taken care of earlier because of dental cutbacks from last year. With due respect, they think they know what it's like for us. They don't. They seem to listen sometimes, but they don't really ever talk with us, just at us."

The bill, HB67, may be read online at le.utah.gov/~2010/htmdoc/hbillhtm/HB0067S01.htm.

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com