Poorest People Still Left Behind in American Healthcare Coverage, Including Medicaid (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

I am a person who is an advocate for universal healthcare coverage in the United States.  When President Barack Obama persistently pushed for the achievement of universal healthcare in the United States, I was definitely a supporter.  I think it is wonderful that people who so desperately need healthcare coverage in the United States are now able to receive it, in many areas of the country.

I, however, still do not have healthcare coverage.  Why?  My income falls below the federal government’s poverty level guidelines for who is eligible to receive universal healthcare.  And, my state, Georgia, has not expanded Medicaid for individuals and/or families who would otherwise be eligible to receive Medicaid due to income guidelines.

So, while there is universal healthcare coverage that is available in the United States, it is not available to me.  I have not had healthcare insurance coverage for about 4.5 years since becoming divorced.  Prior to that, I had healthcare coverage either through my employer and/or my spouse.  In 2009, I was employed with a company that guaranteed healthcare insurance coverage after working for several months; I was laid off before that time came.

For the past 4.5 years, I have paid out-of-pocket for all of my medical and healthcare-related expenses.  I have paid out-of-pocket for visits to my regular doctor, gynecologist, dentist, and optometrist.  I have also paid out-of-pocket for all of my prescriptions, laboratory work, and all other healthcare-related services and appointments.

Last year, after going five years without having an eye exam, I finally had one and got new glasses, with monies withdrawn from my retirement account.  This year, I have noticed further changes in my eyesight, but cannot afford to get my eyes checked, or get new glasses again, with having to pay out-of-pocket.

Typically, my gynecologist and dentist appointments cost me much more than any of my regular doctor appointments.  It has been several years since I went to my OBGYN, and my last mammogram was about five years ago.

Thankfully, most medical practitioners provide some sort of discount for people who pay out-of-pocket.  Such a discount is helpful, though there is a wide range in discount percentages, usually 5%-20%, as I’ve experienced.

When I lived in New York State, from the time I graduated from the University at Buffalo (December 1992), and was removed from my parents’ coverage, until I became employed full-time as a teacher in Georgia (August 2000), I did not have healthcare coverage.  Either my employers did not offer healthcare coverage, or they required at least one’s year’s employment with them before they provided it.  In the places in which I worked part-time, and/or left employment to obtain other employment within one year (typically, for a higher salary and the opportunity for better benefits), I did not have healthcare coverage.

To date, that makes a total of 12.5 years of my life that I have not had healthcare coverage.  After reading a newspaper article related to a lack of healthcare coverage in Georgia for individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid, I realized that I am not alone.  Misty Williams wrote “Ga.’s Medicaid call affects thousands,” being published in the April 6, 2014 issue of The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

In her article, Williams stated, “Statewide, more than 400,000 of Georgia’s poorest, most vulnerable citizens have been left behind by the health care law that was supposed to benefit them the most.”  Because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid (and has, therefore, caused me to be ineligible for coverage, unless I am pregnant), all of these people are still without healthcare coverage.

Throughout the United States, there are 5.7 million people without healthcare coverage – because their states have not expanded Medicaid.  All of the seven states in the Deep South are included in the 24 (nearly half of the US!) states that have not expanded Medicaid.  A WhiteHouse.gov website put’s Georgia’s number of people without coverage at 478,000 – ranked third behind only Texas and Florida – for all those without healthcare coverage due to Medicaid not being expanded to cover them.

If I was younger and perhaps had more faith that an issue such as this would change, I would likely be highly upset about it.  But, now that I am older and somewhat wiser, it really comes as no surprise to me, and is actually a disappointment that people such as myself, who are in the greatest need of healthcare coverage, still do not have it – because they are too poor!

When I am driving on the road, I hope and pray that I am not involved in a serious vehicle collision that causes me bodily harm.  I hope and pray, and do my best to stay healthy, so that I do not acquire a serious illness or disease.  I am cautious and careful about what I eat and who I date, as well as about cleanliness and personal hygiene.

I try to stay as healthy and as well as possible in order to avoid being hospitalized for some situation or condition that could cause bankruptcy.  Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, situations cannot be avoided, and so, I continue to be aware, healthy, and do the best I can.  What I would really like is gainful, stable, and enjoyable full-time employment so that I can obtain and maintain healthcare coverage.

Lawmakers in Georgia – and in other states that have not expanded Medicaid – have truly let down those people such as myself who are so poor that they do not qualify for universal healthcare coverage, including Medicaid.  I thought that the idea behind establishing universal healthcare coverage was so that it would be universal.  Unfortunately, in states such as Georgia, I have seen that it is really not universal.

The Affordable Care Act has, therefore, made absolutely no positive difference in my life to date – because my state has not expanded Medicaid and I am too poor to be eligible to receive Medicaid.  I continue to pay out-of-pocket and do not have any healthcare coverage.  When the poorest of the poor are overlooked and ineligible for even the most minimal healthcare coverage that is supposed to be provided to those who are poor – Medicaid – there is definitely something very wrong with this situation. 😦

References:

24 states are refusing to expand Medicaid (April 3, 2014). Here’s what that means for their residents. WhiteHouse.gov.  Washington, DC: The White House. Retrieved on April 18, 2014 from http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/medicaid-map?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=110613p1&utm_campaign=healthcare

Is my state expanding Medicaid coverage? (2014).  Healthcare.gov.  Baltimore, MD: U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Retrieved on April 18, 2014 from https://www.healthcare.gov/what-if-my-state-is-not-expanding-medicaid/

Williams, Misty (April 6, 2014).  Ga.’s Medicaid call affects thousands.  Atlanta, Georgia: The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Vol. 66, No. 96.

“Polar Vortex 2014” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Snowy Landscape Photo (Retrieved from http://wallpaperweb.org/wallpaper/nature/snow-steps-in-winterland_62252.htm, January 7, 2014)

Snowy Landscape Photo (Retrieved from http://wallpaperweb.org/wallpaper/nature/snow-steps-in-winterland_62252.htm, January 7, 2014)

The cold is no joke!  The biggest weather – and news – event occurring during the past couple of days has been the 2014 Polar Vortex that has swept across the United States.  Extremely frigid polar air from the Arctic has dipped down to the Deep South of the US.  This morning, January 7, 2014, in Snellville, Georgia, near Atlanta, where I live, the temperature at 7:00 AM was 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s without including the wind chill factor!  Already at around 9:00 PM this evening, the temperature was back down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit after reaching a high of about 25 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon at about 3:30 PM!  One online news article (Henry, 2014) reported that temperatures around parts of the US are colder than those currently in Antarctica!

It is definitely true that people – especially those folks in the South who are not accustomed to such icy temperatures – may not be entirely aware of the dangers of extreme cold.  Regarding myself, being originally from the Buffalo, New York area, I know about the cold, the dangers of it, and know not to take any unnecessary risks, nor to potentially place myself or others in danger in such frigidly cold weather.   Extreme cold can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and/or death.  It is not something with which to play around or take chances.

I am an individual who remembers the Blizzard of 1977 where I lived in Collins, New York.  I was 6-years-old at the time, and in the first grade.  Even at such a young age, it was exciting for my brother and I to remain at home for two straight weeks due to the school closures related to the Blizzard conditions.  I recall and have photographs that my parents took of my brother and I standing atop snow drifts that were as high as the roof of our garage.  Similar drifts created by snow plows clearing snow from the roads caused rises of snow that were of the same height.  Once the blizzard conditions passed, it was fun to play outside in the snow for awhile, but not long enough to get too cold.

In my mid-teens, there was a time when I believed I could outsmart Mother Nature by going out and riding snowmobile in temperatures that were less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and with wind chills of about -20 degrees Fahrenheit.  I promised that I would not be gone long, and was not riding for more than one hour when I returned home and was unable to feel my left hand.  I had decided to return when my toes and feet began tingling, but did not realize that I had already lost sensation in my hand.  I only realized it upon taking off my glove upon entering the house, remembering that I could not feel anything in my hand.  It was the beginning of frostbite.  Thankfully, it was not serious, and my mom saw to it that my hand was warmed carefully and quickly.  However, it is an experience that I have always remembered, and no longer take risks in the extreme cold with Mother Nature.

What is tricky in the South is that it can be frigidly cold, but there not be a speck of snow on the ground.  For me, coming from Buffalo, that is always a big disappointment.  When there is cold, I have always come to expect snow to accompany it.  However, that is rarely the case in the South.  And, that is something that can fool people into a false sense of security.  Simply because there is no snow on the ground does not necessarily mean that it is not cold – or even frigidly cold, as it has been here for the past couple of days now.  One must get bundled up if going outside, must not remain outside for very long, and must be assured of having a warm place to go – or even emergency measures to use – if one’s vehicle breaks down or if one’s utilities stop working in one’s home, for examples.

Also, what I noticed this afternoon when I went out to run a couple of quick errands was that people on the road are impatient with other drivers.  For goodness sakes, it is COLD outside!  I was out and about for only 20 minutes or so, and within that time, there were already two drivers who honked their horns at other drivers who were stopped at traffic lights, and who did not resume driving quickly enough for them once the traffic light changed from red to green.  People are not used to the cold.  Vehicles are not used to the cold.  And, people need to give each other more understanding and be more patient in extreme weather events such as this.  The buses may be off the roads because schools are closed, however that does not mean that some folks are entitled to race down the empty speedway through the city.  People should be more cautious and careful, and give each other more consideration in situations such as this.  That is definitely the intelligent thing to do.

So, be careful out there in the cold.  And, don’t go out into it if you don’t have to.  Bundle yourself up, make sure there are extra blankets in your vehicle – and for many, a shovel and even hot packs.  People who are used to the cold such as skiers and snowmobilers from the North such as myself know these things.  Listen to your body when you are out in the cold.  And, better yet, listen to your brain.  Stay inside where it is warm unless you have to go out.  Don’t take any unnecessary risks, or place yourself or others in potential danger.  Hopefully, you have some food stocked up, or if you don’t, get some when the temperatures have risen during the day.  Stay warm, stay healthy, stay inside as much as possible!

References:

“2014 North American cold wave.”  Wikipedia.  Retrieved on January 7, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_North_American_polar_vortex

Henry, R. (2014).  “Polar air blamed for 21 deaths nationwide.”  MSN News; Associated Press.  Retrieved on January 7, 2014 from http://news.msn.com/us/polar-air-brings-single-digit-cold-to-east-south.