Actor Steve Way, who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, is frankly terrified at the prospect of four more years of Donald Trump. Still, the foul-mouthed comedian and star of the hit Hulu show “Ramy” is hopeful that more ideologically radical Democratic presidential candidates will help change things positively for the disability community.
“Health care in this country is something that unfortunately I do understand, because it is greed and capitalism,” Way said. “What I do not understand is how the people in this country have not just rioted.”
Way is painstakingly familiar with the often bureaucratic absurdities of the American health care system, and he often uses acerbic humor to explain to nondisabled people the travails of being a stand-up comedian who happens to have a disability.
Way uses a wheelchair and needs assistance with bathing, grooming and dressing himself — tasks that nondisabled people routinely take for granted. Since last year, he has been battling with his home state of New Jersey to live independently, but his request for 86 hours of caregiving has been repeatedly denied. As a result, the 28-year-old is still unable to move out of his parents’ home, even as his television career takes off.
“The state of New Jersey has told me that I am not disabled enough,” said Way, who, like some 15 million Americans living with a disability, relies on Medicaid.
In a statement to HuffPost, a spokesperson from New Jersey’s Department of Human Services said they couldn’t comment on specific cases. “Our priority is always to ensure that individuals have access to the services and benefits for which they are eligible to meet their needs,” the statement read.
Indeed, the way the Trump administration views Medicaid — often as a bloated government handout program, rather than an essential safety net — has been a constant destabilizing issue for the disability community since 2016.
When the Republican-led Senate proposed the now-defunct Health Care Freedom Act in 2017, organizers from the disability rights group ADAPT hosted sit-ins and demonstrations, which saw dramatic moments where supporters were dragged out of wheelchairs and arrested in congressional offices.
Republicans have since repeatedly looked for ways to roll back Medicaid expansion, and they have threatened to make drastic cuts to the program by fundamentally altering the way it’s funded. Separately, this month, appeals courts will once again hear a challenge from Texas that could be the death knell for the Affordable Care Act as it exists today.
It’s these linchpin fights that have inspired Way to back more radically left-leaning Democratic candidates to take on Trump in 2020. He’s thrown his support behind Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), both of whom back the idea of replacing the private health insurance system with “Medicare for All.”
“This fight for more care hours has really pushed me to identify as a socialist,” Way said. “When I hear from candidates like Booker or Harris say, ‘Yes, I support Medicare for All. Let’s hold on to those insurance companies, though,’ that is not Medicare for All.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who brands himself as a pragmatist, has an approach to health care that has been called, among other things, “confusing.” While he’s previously said that he supports Medicare for All, he has argued for making incremental changes to the nation’s current health care system, rather than axe existing private insurance. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), meanwhile, has already raised eyebrows for flip-flopping on the issue of whether she would ditch private insurance companies if she became president.
Instead, with what he says are Sanders’ and Warren’s more radical proposals, Way sees them as having the health care policy bona fides to effectively tackle the current quagmire. As he told me last month: “You cannot have a system where everyone is able to get what they need but still have the bureaucracy of capitalism.”
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