Medicaid paves way to independence for Gloria Nichols

By Mike Ervin

2017-March-14-Gloria Nichols
Gloria Nichols was hospitalized six times in 2016 because of urinary tract infections. Medicaid paid for all her medical expenses. “I never received a bill,” she says.

Where would she be without Medicaid? “I’d be bankrupt and in a nursing home.”

Gloria was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1980 and she signed up for Medicaid shortly thereafter. She has four daughters, eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and another on the way. She lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, supported by personal assistants she hires to help her with daily activities like dressing, bathing and transferring in and out of her motorized wheelchair. The wages of her assistants are paid by the Home Services Program (HSP) of the Illinois Department of Human Services. HSP is funded by Medicaid dollars. Not only does HSP enable Gloria to live her fullest life, it also saves the state money. It costs between $17,000 and $20,000 less annually to provide assistance for people like Gloria through HSP than it would if she were institutionalized.

When Gloria says that without Medicaid she would be bankrupt or in a nursing home, she’s not exaggerating. Medicaid has been the cornerstone of her independence for decades. How else could she pay all her hospital bills and the wages of her assistants, as well as the cost of equipment like her wheelchair?

When time permits, Gloria throws herself into disability rights activism. For more than 30 years she’s been involved with the direct action disability rights group ADAPT. As part of ADAPT, she helps produce a monthly Cable Access Program called ADAPT of Chicago Productions, which gives voice to people with disabilities in order to raise awareness about critical issues impacting the independence of people with disabilities in Chicago and around the country. These issues include the need for stronger implementation of the right of people with disabilities like Gloria to live in their own homes instead of nursing homes.

So Gloria is well aware of the threat posed by Congressional proposals to convert Medicaid into a block grant program where people with disabilities like her would no longer be entitled to have the services that are part of living with a disability covered by Medicaid. Giving states less Medicaid money and more discretion on which services and people to cut, she fears, could result in people with her type of “expensive” needs being dropped.

“I try not to think about it too much,” she says, “or I could put myself in a real funk.”

For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice) or garnold@accessliving.org