Medicaid Saved My Life

November 2005 was a tick on a timeline that spans almost 34 years. Most of you probably don’t even remember it vividly- I certainly don’t. 11 years and 5 months have gone by, and looking back, I can only really remember the person that I was by digging through my Gmail, by searching on keywords. “Austin” yielded an unsurprisingly large number of results. A select variety of first names also yielded an unsurprisingly large number of results. If there is any ONE thing that has remained the same about myself between 2005 and now, it is the fact that I will ALWAYS figure out how to get what I need. “Medicaid.” Jackpot!

One email was to my nutritionist in Austin. I had blown off two appointments, without insurance, that I was supposed to pay for out of pocket, with no job. The subject line was “Closure,” and you can imagine how much fun that was to read today, all these years later — a whole lifetime later, as far as I am concerned.

“I don’t really know what to say at this point. Our last session a few weeks ago went so well, that I was afraid to taint it. I really disrespected you by not showing up to my last 2 sessions, and I promise to get a check out in the mail to you tomorrow for those missed sessions.

As far as treatment in NY — My mom and I are going the the NY Medicaid offices tomorrow morning to try to get me on Medicaid. Re[hab Center 1] charges $2100/DAY for anywhere from 2 weeks to a month; they accept private insurance, which I don’t have, nor can I afford at this point. There is another treatment facility in CT called [redacting this too] — they are world-renown; they charge $21,000/MONTH in cash, or again, private insurance.

With Medicaid, I am hoping to get into the [Redacted Name of the Place that Saved My Life] program here in Westchester, but nothing is definite yet, and I’m scared.

I will say it again- You were my REALITY check. And Austin was my La-La Land, and I was TERRIFIED of facing you, because stubborn me wanted SO badly to believe she could do it on her own. In my last weeks in TX, I tried so hard to ‘shelf’ my disorder and go on with my life, tying up loose ends, surrounding myself with the people I had worked so hard to make my world down there.”

Reading all of that (and more! there was more!) was horrible. This poor, broken, sad and scared and starving version of myself is no longer such BECAUSE of what happened when my mother took me to the darkest, dankest, basement-lit pit of Hell that was the Medicaid office in Westchester County, NY. One of the wealthiest places in the country- imagine? I don’t remember much about it at this point, but what I do remember is sitting in a waiting room with her and looking around and feeling like a total fraud for being there. Clearly I was in need of help that I could not afford, nor could my parents — but there were plenty of other people there who needed help, arguably more obviously than I did. I remember hearing my name and walking back with my mom and meeting a guy who had a stack of case folios piled high over my head on his desk. He took one look at me and started crying. Through tears my mom and I attempted to explain how I wound up there. I doubt it was very eloquent. We could come up with any number of scenarios for why ULTIMATELY they granted me the insurance, but as I recall, it didn’t take much persuasion. Less than a week later, I began my FIRST round of in-patient treatment at a hospital near my parents’ house. I spent two weeks re-learning (at 22 years of age!) how to eat a meal. Testing out medications in a controlled setting, where I had 24/7 surveillance. This place made it virtually impossible for me to get in my own way. The therapy was intense, I journaled a lot. I read a lot. I slept a lot. I attended a lot of sessions. I spent Thanksgiving there in 2005.

Being that I was still a relatively recent college grad, I couldn’t really handle living at my parents’ house after 4 years of college and the better part of a year in an entirely different part of the country with nobody to answer to. I think I held a part-time job for maybe 2 months before relapsing and being re-hospitalized, this time for 10 days in 2006. I think this was when they figured out the proper meds, the therapy sessions made sense and things clicked for me. The shame I felt in myself for having “failed” the first time around… I can’t even start to imagine how the people who knew me then and loved me then felt when I had to go back. I also can’t imagine how much this all would have cost my family out of pocket. If I really sit here and think about it, I realize that I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, where I am, right now. I can’t entertain the place I imagine I may actually have wound up without government aid. We didn’t have the money. Despite where I grew up, despite the fact that both of my parents had jobs — there was NO way I could have afforded not just to go there ONCE and fail, but to have to go back a SECOND time…..

The Affordable Care Act came along quite a few years after my hospitalizations. By the time the ACA came to be, I was gainfully employed, living in Boston with my sister, living a normal life. The fact that the House passed a bill that would essentially destroy the program that very literally saved my life is what has ultimately compelled me to not only dig up some really, really traumatic and personally soul-crushing artifacts from my past, but to share it publicly. For those who are still uncertain about how this bill could affect people you know, people like me — trust me. You know someone. In case you aren’t sure why this is such a big deal, why your friends and family are freaking out, here is a pretty good list, taken from the Washington Post (enough with the “fake news” crap, too… these are FACTS).

Here are some of the things it does:

1. Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.

2. Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.

3. Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.

4. Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.

5. Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.

6. Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients.

7. Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.

8. Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.

9. Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.

10. Produces higher deductibles for patients.

11. Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.

12. Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.

13. Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.

Jimmy Kimmel shared a very emotional, personal story on his late night show recently about his newborn son, who was born with a grave heart condition. Although it is just one example, the overall message he gave at the end is the one that I took away, that I think is where I want to end this. He said:

“Whatever party you belong to, we need to make sure that the people who represent us, and people are meeting about this right now in Washington, understand that very clearly. Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football. There are no teams. We are the team. It’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.”

We are better than this as a country. Personally, I am who I am, where I am in my life, thanks to Medicaid. At almost 34 years of age, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I live a normal life. I have learned to cope with my surroundings, with adversity, with hardship. There is NO way I could have gotten this far without government help. I hope this story resonates with some of you. If you know me, you know someone who benefited from government aid. Please keep that in mind when you call and write your elected officials, when you share stories on social media, when you talk to others. You never know when you might make a difference. I truly hope somehow this does.