Rally at Isakson’s home office opposing Senate health plan

Rally at Johnny Isakson's office -- photo by Rebecca Gaunt

Disability advocates gathered to rally in Thursday’s steamy heat in front of Senator Johnny Isakson’s home office. Attendees were concerned about the Senate healthcare bill and the potential effect on pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps, and Medicaid. The rally was organized by Meymoona Freeman, whose daughter Luna was born three months premature and received life-saving treatment thanks to Medicaid.

Widget Richards, who lives in Cobb with her husband and disabled son Nick, was first to arrive and parked in front of the building. As she was removing signs from her car, she says building security called the police to remove her from private property. Attendees gathered on the sidewalk along Cumberland Boulevard instead.

The rally gathered roughly 50 people. Nearly all were either disabled or were there to support disabled friends and family.

Sid Besmertnik of Dunwoody attended with his 30-year-old son Todd, who is disabled. Todd spent six years on the waitlist for the NOW/COMP Medicaid waiver. His father is nervous about what will happen if cuts or caps occur.

Sid and Todd Besmertnik — photo by Rebecca Gaunt

The plan was for people to go up to Isakson’s office two at a time to leave their letters and stories, or speak with a staffer if possible, but many of them met with resistance from building security. They removed their “Don’t Target People With Disabilities” shirts and had to insist to they were not part of the rally to go up.

Mark Wallace Maguire of Fayetteville was not pleased to learn that the senator’s office was on private property and hard to access. He went with a small group of four to see if they would be able to go. Initially, security did not want to let them in, but eventually they were able to get up to the office. “We just went in and hand delivered the letters. The lady who opened the door was kind,” he said.

The Gray family of Grant Park was also able to get up to the office as they had just arrived from a meeting at Senator Perdue’s office and had not joined the rally yet. They brought their daughter and son, 5-year-old Everett, who was born with a congenital heart defect and required a heart transplant at the age of three. Mom Kelley is very concerned about the potential return of lifetime caps or restrictions on pre-existing conditions. “I’m tired of hearing rhetoric about personal responsibility,” she said. “There’s no amount of bake sale fundraisers we could do to pay for a heart transplant.”

Butch Brosman of Decatur also attended and entertained the children by making balloon animals. His father was in the Air Force and met his mother abroad. Born in a tropical climate, he contracted virus that caused a rare neurological condition. His parents couldn’t afford treatment and he credits Shriners Hospitals for saving his life. Despite being disabled, he is not on Medicaid. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, he was unable to get coverage due to his pre-existing condition. After the ACA was passed, he couldn’t afford insurance, and because Governor Deal declined to expand Medicaid in Georgia, he was unable to qualify. He went bankrupt and was homeless for a time. Now he’s married and in a better place. However, he recently had a relapse and ended up back in a wheelchair. Fortunately, he was able to get care thanks to Grady Hospital’s financial assistance program.

I get no benefits, but this legislation is deplorable,” Brosman said.

Dawn Alford, Public Policy Director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, also attended and met with a staff member.

“There are over 38,000 individuals in Georgia who, like me, currently receive Medicaid services through home and community-based waivers (HCBS). Since these HCBS waivers are optional for states to provide, they could be reduced or eliminated altogether because states will be forced to make up the budget shortfall,” Alford said. “The services I receive from Medicaid allow me to work full time doing a job I love, pay taxes, and live among my loved ones. I don’t want to end up segregated from society and have to live in a nursing facility.”