The Ottumwa Courier

April 4, 2013

Loebsack cautions on budget cuts

Congressman says across-the-board cuts seem easier, not better

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Even if your government-funded program is doing a lot of good, you’re not going to be able to grow right now. In fact, you’ll be lucky to stay at the same level of funding.

“Holding the line,” said U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack.

“That’s right,” said Nurse Cheryll Jones, ARNP. “We just are trying to survive.”

The nurse met the Democrat while he was in Ottumwa Wednesday morning meeting with staff at a center operated by Jones, Child Health Specialty Clinics, a satellite of University of Iowa’s “Children’s Hospital.”

Jones said, “Funding has gradually eroded over time … but I know everybody is struggling.”

Loebsack said with the sequester and its mindless “across-the-board cuts,” programs that work are cut at the same rate as those that don’t. Programs with enough money are cut at the same rate as those that are struggling.

Being able to come to a clinic for special-needs young people, with a clinic right in Ottumwa, is helpful for families, said Jones. She warned that cutting Title 5 funding, which helps women and children, will reduce access to a program that works. It supports clinics for people who live outside of big cities like Des Moines or Iowa City.

“I’m a strong believer that this levels the playing field for rural [residents],” Jones said.

For those who can’t travel, kids can still have mental health needs met through tele-medicine. One office is dedicated to Dr. Jennifer McWilliams, a University of Iowa psychiatrist. She spoke to the congressman from her office in Iowa City.

Loebsack asked the figure on the TV screen if kids are more or less worried with their doctor on screen instead of in the room.

“Parents and grandparents may be a little uncomfortable with the telepsych,” Dr. McWilliams said. “But for kids, with Skype and Facetime, they’re used to this.”

This is a helpful, cost-effective model of a rural clinic, Loebsack said.

“It’s been an investment over time,” Loebsack acknowledged. “To just devastate that now…” would be foolish, which is why he’ll be fighting for the survival of Title 5 funding.

Despite the uncertainty of looming but unspecified cuts, Jones said the clinic would continue at current levels for the moment. She understands that while growth would be desirable, it’s just not going to happen in the current financial and political climate.

There are some things the government is getting right, at least as far as the parents of severely disabled children are concerned.

While the latest effort at health care reform, nicknamed Obamacare, has generated controversy, there are a couple of points within it that have helped. Katelyn Clark, 18, a patient that the congressman met on Wednesday. Her family spent $1,500 for small plastic foot braces to hold her ankles straight, then $3,500 for an unpowered wheelchair. This stuff, said her mom, Lisa, is very expensive.

Yet no matter how much you pay for health coverage, once you hit a million dollars spent over a lifetime, insurance no longer pays.

“Years ago,” Jones said, “I had a mom say, ‘I literally have a million dollar baby.’”

As a toddler, the special-needs child had already reached it’s “cap.” And then, said Lisa (who now works as a family services navigator at CHSC), one can’t get new insurance because the child has “pre-existing conditions.” Those are both addressed in “Obamacare,” as is allowing a child to stay on the parents’ insurance until they are a few years older. The Family Medical Leave Act , FMLA, is also helpful, even though there’s no pay coming in. “When she got sick,” said Lisa, “we knew her father wouldn’t lose his job. FMLA is a good thing.”

Loebsack said these hardworking parents and their children deserve help. He said he’ll be advocating for them back in Washington. And that across-the-board cuts make for cuts without thought behind them.

“We have budgets,” said Loebsack, “we all recognize that. But budget cuts shouldn’t be balanced on the backs of some of our most vulnerable.”