Avoiding vs. Embracing Poverty (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Poverty has a Woman's Face (Retrieved on March 7, 2015 from www.mtholyoke.edu)

Poverty has a Woman’s Face (Retrieved on March 7, 2015 from http://www.mtholyoke.edu)

If I was a gambler, I would bet that no one ever thinks she or he would lose financial stability and become impoverished in our great land of opportunity. I mean, 65 years ago, my mother’s family immigrated to the United States from Poland and Germany because this is the land flowing with “milk and honey.” After all, the streets in the United States are supposed to be “paved with gold,” right? I guess it all depends on who you talk to.

Sure, my immigrant grandparents obtained work and opportunities in America, but they worked and slaved hard to achieve it. Sometimes, they worked up to three jobs at a time to pay for a home, food, and clothing for their four children. Though they worked hard, they were still poor. There was no money for sending any of the kids to college. But, that was also a time when people could make a decent living by having only a high school diploma. Today, the expectation is that one must have at least a college degree.

My dad has also always been a hard worker. Beginning as a little kid, he would sell soda pop at the weekly community bingo games. Then, he would collect the empty bottles back and return them for deposit compensation. He was also a newspaper delivery boy, and then he pumped gas to fill customer’s vehicles at the gas station. My grandfather worked, but my grandmother did not; and my grandfather died when my dad was 17. There was no money for college. I doubt it was even considered. Even so, my dad became a dedicated employee of the State of New York for 37 years.

As a girl, growing up, I had all the expectations about life that many girls probably do.  When I grew up, I was going to have the million dollar family, the home in the suburbs with the white picket fence, a great career, and everything was going to be rosy. We would live happily ever after – or so I thought.

The real fact of the matter is that a few things have been rosy, but most things have been a great struggle. I never imagined that from my upper middle class background that I would be at below poverty level status. I have experienced the feminization of poverty in America. Considering everything, however, I think that I’ve done really well. I have avoided poverty as much as possible, but it is still with me. Poverty has been my lover for the past 7 years now. I don’t love him, but he can’t seem to get enough of me.

No matter what I’ve tried, no matter how I’ve tried to help myself for the past 7 years, I’ve been unable to escape the specter of poverty. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’ve never used drugs, I am intelligent and hard-working, and I am one of the kindest people you will ever meet in your life. I have also learned to be extremely careful with what I have, in both possessions and finances. I am also not one to complain…because I know there are always those out there who are in a worse position than me.

Perhaps these are reasons that no one ever would suspect my true financial status. In fact, when I attempt to broach the subject with people, nearly everyone always brushes it off. They don’t take it seriously. I mean, how many impoverished people look as good as I do? How many care for and support their family as well as I do? One charity volunteer who interviewed me a couple of years ago honestly stated to me, “You don’t look poor.” I don’t look poor. And, I am not poor – I am impoverished.

Throughout these past years, I have tried to do what I can to help myself and my family. I have tried to avoid poverty. I have tried to be as frugal as possible. I don’t have healthcare, nor do I have the money for it. I have been unemployed out of my main career field for the past six years. I have gone back to school, twice, in an effort to jump start my career and get back on my feet. Either those efforts did not work or there were unforeseen setbacks that occurred. I can already foresee student loan payments in the near future that I will likely be unable to make, thus destroying what little progress I’ve managed to make recently.

There are so many other things that I could say and identify that have happened, but there are some things that are just better left private. I do not want the situation to get worse by divulging too much. After all, I’ve learned in life that when you’re down, most people are there to ignore you and/or kick you around.  Those who are encouraging and supportive are truly few and far between.

Life is truly about the survival of the fittest. In our competitive United States, I think cooperation. Where I think kindness, too many others think selfishness. And, people who have never experienced poverty simply cannot and do not understand it, nor can relate to it. When you try to explain it to them, they have no clue about it. For someone such as myself, I do not look for sympathy, but understanding, support, and opportunities for empowerment. If people are unable to relate, then there is no chance for any of that to occur at all.

So, while I have done and continue to do what I can for the best of myself and my family in trying to avoid Poverty, it seems to have gotten the better of me again. Just when you think you cannot cinch your belt any tighter, it becomes even more constricting. So, I have thought that, perhaps, I am doing it all wrong. Maybe I should not try to avoid or run from Poverty, maybe I should just embrace him. But, then again, I cannot do that, or Poverty will have won. Remember, Poverty loves me, but I do not love him. He might think that he has won, but he has not. I will be okay; I will be a Poverty survivor.

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.