Medicaid, Healthcare, and Me

I am so angry…again, still…it is really never-ending the depths of my anger and the ongoing atrocities the current Republican controlled administration from the president, Congress, and SCOTUS keep heaping on us. A.N.G.R.Y. The current plans of both the House and the Senate to gut the Affordable Care Act and replace it with their latest monstrosity leaves me bewildered and befuddled (seems a permanent state of mind these days.) I don’t really know what to write, what to say, how I can contribute to the ongoing discussions of this shameful moment. I just feel the need to document it and tell a little bit about my story and my experience.

I am sure as a kid I must have been on Medicaid from time to time. We were poor. My mom was a single parent of one then two kids. We were on welfare for a time. We went to the food bank periodically (got that gubmnt cheese.) As a young adult I was on Medicaid. The first time was when I went to drug and alcohol treatment. I was 18, a high school drop out, strung together several dead-end low pay jobs with no health benefits, and was deep in trouble (and frankly, was unemployable by that point). When I finally got real with myself, I realized the path I was on lead two places: prison or the grave unless I did something about it. I opted to live. Since at 18 I was no longer covered by my parent’s health insurance plan, I had to figure it out for myself. So I went to the local DSHS office and asked for help. Thankfully, I was able to get the help I needed to get my life back on track, to start doing something with myself, to begin contributing positively to society.

The second time I needed medical help, I was working full-time as the manager of a now defunct mall and a part-time student at the local community college. I found out I was pregnant. Now, I am pro-choice. I believe a woman has a right to choose abortion for whatever reason she, her doctor, and potentially her partner determine. For me, it was not a choice that was even on my mind. I was almost 21 years old, had no health insurance through work or school, and my baby’s dad couldn’t put me on his plan because we weren’t married. I again applied for Medicaid. And thankfully, I got it. I had excellent prenatal care. When I went into pre-term labor 2 months before my son was born, we (he) was taken care of without worry about medical bills I would not be able to pay. When we found out that he was breech, I went my doctor, he was able to make a referral, and they were able to get him turned around in preparation for delivery. We were able to keep him in my womb until it was safe to deliver him and by turning him, he was able to drop into place for a natural delivery. When we lost his heartbeat during delivery, the doctors were able to attach a probe to his skull to monitor his heartbeat. He and I were able to stay on Medicaid for many years after that, through full-time jobs, part-time jobs, and my bachelor’s degree. Because of Medicaid, my son was able to get regular check-ups, immunizations, hearing aids, and dental care. Because of Medicaid, I was able to get regular pap smears, regular check ups and birth control.

I was off Medicaid for a long period even while my son was covered. The next time I needed Medicaid was when I got pregnant with my daughter. Again, I had no job that provided medical insurance and wasn’t married to her dad so couldn’t be covered by his insurance. (There is a theme here, not about me and my partner choices but about women’s and men’s work and who is better compensated and insured.) Again, I had excellent prenatal care. Anyways, because I was a little bit older, there were other concerns about the pregnancy. I can’t remember what it was, some blood thing. The doctor told me that I needed to get to the hospital as soon as I felt I might be in labor so that I could get a shot that would prevent them from having to keep the baby in the hospital a little longer to check for complications. Needless to say, my labor progressed too rapidly for the shot to be effective and we ended up having to stay in the hospital for 48 hours or so. We were able to do this without worry about medical bills we would be unable to pay.

Years later when I was a full-time graduate student, living off of $13k/ year, and had left an abusive relationship, my kids were on Medicaid. Medicaid covered hearing aids for my son, regular check-ups for both of my kids, pretty sure it covered a couple of rounds of stitches, and regular immunizations. Basically, Medicaid bought me peace of mind and helped me to make sure my kids had their medical needs met and stayed healthy.

During my grad school period, my grandma had a massive stroke which rendered her incapable of work. She was in her early 70s and worked right up until the day she was hospitalized for C. Difficile following colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy. C. Diff is a highly contagious infection that causes uncontrollable diarrhea and possibly death because of dehydration. During her hospital stay, she fell and threw a clot, causing a major stroke (her third or fourth stroke, however much more severe than her previous strokes.) She, too, had been on Medicaid on and off through the years. She had had a heart attack, triple bi-pass, and a few strokes, yet she continued working after recovery. She could not afford to fully retire, her Medicare supplemental insurance, electricity, and housing costs were too much for her Social Security to cover. So she continued working part-time. She was an elder care-giver doing in-home care.  Anyways, following the major stroke, her left side was completely paralyzed, she could not swallow, and eventually had no motor skills to care for herself. We had to put her in a nursing home.

Because my grandma had worked in many nursing homes in the area, I had heard all tale about how awful some homes were, how neglectful the staff can be, and learned that I needed to be as constant a presence as I could be for her. I was her Medical Power of Attorney. And I was there as much as I could be. I put 30,000 miles on the road in a matter of months driving between my town and the city where my grandma was (which for the sake of reference is a 75 mile one-way drive.) It was Medicaid that provided the additional funds that Medicare didn’t cover (and because we could no longer afford her supplemental Medicare insurance). Because of Medicaid, my grandma was able to be in a better nursing home than the horror stories she had told me about. I was able to trust the nursing staff and eventually not be there every single day (I was still there several days per week for almost 2 full years.)

These are just bits of my story and my experiences with Medicaid. I don’t know what childbirth costs – tens of thousands of dollars, I imagine. I do know that with both of my pregnancies and their complications (however mild), the costs would likely have bankrupted me two times over. My son’s hearing aids cost over $2500/ear! That was not something I could have afforded on my own at any point in my life. Even now with employer funded health insurance, my plan only covers $300 of that $5000 cost – and that is after the $250 deductible has been met! And because my son is hard of hearing in both ears, Medicaid was also responsible for his specialists in school – a speech therapist and some others that I don’t remember over 20 years ago. I can’t even imagine what some families go through with medical crises and/or medical and educational specialists. But even if I can’t imagine, I can put myself into other people’s shoes and understand the worry, fear, and desperation they must feel just to get theirs and their family’s needs met medically and how much of an uphill battle that seems in the best of times.

I find it hypocritical and absurd that these same republican stooges preach family values, are anti-abortion, are against equal pay, and against raising the minimum wage while they have excellent health insurance, excellent pay, get other paid gigs (speaking tours, book deals, etc…) based upon their public stature, and are so willing to decimate health insurance – both the exchanges AND Medicaid. They are only pro-life when it suits them politically and only while the fetus is in gestation, forget about after the child is born and now with this proposed legislation they might as well forget about the fetus during pregnancy. Further, if they supported equitable pay and raising the minimum wage, that might at the very minimum, offset the additional costs this new cruel plan of theirs will cost regular people.

Analyses have this legislation costing exponentially more, penalties for women who have plans that offer abortion, no funding for Planned Parenthood (one of the largest family planning providers in the United States), decimates rural clinics, etc…all while giving the wealthy a tax break and abandoning any semblance of care for fetuses or children once drawing air. So basically they are happy to thwart any mechanism by which we might “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” WHILE undermining our physical, mental, and dental health. The only thing they care about is giving their wealthy donors ways to make more money off the backs of the working poor, making the rest of us more financially unstable, and hoping that we are all too busy to notice what they are doing, too sick to muster the energy to respond as they rob the nation, and to uneducated to analyze these things. That is the real agenda of this republican controlled Congress and administration. They do not care one iota about the workers who keep this country and its institutions running and contributing to the GDP, which leads me to believe they do not care one iota about this country.

We do an abysmal job in this country caring for our youth and elderly people, a truly terrible job. I watched it with my grandma. She wanted to fully retire but could not afford to. She struggled and stressed in her final ambulatory years to pay electricity, eat, pay her supplemental insurance, afford her medications (heart meds, blood thinners, etc…), and worked until the day she was hospitalized. She was in one of the best nursing homes in the city she lived in and still the CNAs too often refused to lift her properly and dropped her more than once, causing her to bounce between her metal framed nursing home bed and her nightstand, with absolutely no way for her to slow or prevent her fall. She had a bed sore one time. In the State of Washington, people in nursing homes only need to be bathed two times per week and doctors only have to visit patients once every 30 days. In her first few months in the nursing home, we struggled to get her meds just right. There is significant nerve pain after a stroke. She was in a lot of pain, was hallucinating horrible things about murder and guillotines, she slept 10 minutes at a time and would cry out in pain, and was depressed. When her doctor refused the head nurse’s request for anti-psychotics to ease my grandma’s hallucinations and hopefully grant her peace of mind to rest, I had to step in and basically scream at him that she deserved relief from this misery. Nursing homes, no matter how nice, are miserable places and over half of the people in them are on Medicaid. I leave with one rhetorical question, how do you wish to be treated in your end of life? Because we will all be there one day and around 70% of us will have some sort of stay in a nursing home. Part of investing in this country is investing in the youth and securing a safe and sane end of life for those who have already contributed to this country. This legislation is a huge step in the wrong direction.

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