NORMAL — Holding signs reading "Medicaid for Seniors, Not Tax Breaks for Millionaires" and chanting "Stand up, fight back," about 60 people rallied outside U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis's uptown Normal office on Wednesday, protesting proposed federal cuts to Medicaid.
"The health care battle was won," said Barb Franklin of Rantoul, president of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, referring to the Republican failure to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). "But the struggle isn't over."
Franklin said the alliance was holding Davis accountable for voting for the ACA repeal, which would have reduced Medicaid coverage that helps fund nursing homes and in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities.
In addition, the protesters oppose Medicaid cuts proposed by President Trump and some House Republicans, she said. Davis is a House Republican.
"To make room for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, it will be programs that serve as our lifelines ... that will be on the chopping block," Franklin said.
With 70 percent of low- to moderate-income seniors having at least one chronic condition, "We should be building up our care systems, not scrapping it," she said.
Regarding proposals to privatize Medicare and make it into a coupon or voucher system, alliance Vice President Kate Jamruk said, "Medicare isn't charity. Medicare is earned."
When protesters entered Davis's office — which he shares with State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington — they found that Davis's district outreach coordinator was out at a family funeral so they presented their letter to Brady's district office director.
Later Wednesday, Davis's communications director Ashley Phelps said that Davis is committed to ensuring that promises like Medicare are kept but, if nothing is done to shore up the program, by 2028, it will become insolvent.
"As for Medicaid, this is a program that has grown exponentially," covering one in four Illinoisans, Phelps said. Spending on Medicaid is $600 billion and is expected to grow to $800 billion by 2023.
"This is unsustainable," she said.
Among protesters was Thomas Bennett, 65, of Bloomington, who was there for his son, T.J., 24, who was born with hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the brain) and has cerebral palsy, poor brain development, seizure disorder and uses a wheelchair.
"Medicaid has been there for him," helping to cover his medical expenses, Bennett told The Pantagraph. "Pull him off Medicaid and he'll die."
Bennett said he is saving Medicaid money by taking care of T.J. at home rather than placing him in a long-term care facility.
Jeanna Campbell, 28, of Normal, said she has an elderly loved one who depends on Medicaid even though she started working when she was 15 and a brother with autism who uses Medicaid to help cover medical expenses. Campbell uses Medicare as secondary insurance because the primary insurance she receives as a full-time special education teaching assistant doesn't cover all the medical supplies she needs as a Type 1 diabetic.
"If we were to take funding away, it would be disastrous," Campbell said. "This is an issue for everyone."