In January, I heard a story about Florida Governor Rick Scott’s efforts to oppose the expansion of Medicaid in his state: http://m.npr.org/news/U.S./169060335.
The story was frustrating for several reasons. I have many relatives in Florida without health insurance. They don’t have very much money and thus would likely be eligible to benefit from this expansion. When I lived in Florida as an adult, I was also unable to get health insurance, as I was turned down due to pre-existing conditions. I worked full time for years without coverage. I got two undergraduate degrees and a masters without insurance. I worked for Florida State University both full-time before grad school and as a graduate student, with no health insurance.
It sucked. The inability to have a regular doctor guaranteed trips to the emergency room, the inability to effectively manage my conditions (including my asthma, which left me vulnerable and close to death quite a few times), and a reliance on samples of medication given to me by sympathetic poor-people-clinic doctors who applied the free drugs like bandaids to a gunshot wound.
In fact, one of the reasons I moved to California was because my university offered me healthcare, and I needed it. I couldn’t breathe, due to allergies and severe asthma. I missed too much work when my lungs closed. I had migraines. I was also starting to have trouble walking and immense back pain–at age 24. It was only when I was in California that I was able to be put on medications that control my asthma–I haven’t had to sleep with my rescue inhaler in my hand like I used to in The Sunshine State. It was only when I came here that I was able to get the tests to show that I had a severely herniated disc and that I needed surgery immediately. Obviously, finding out I needed surgery would have been pointless in Florida–I wouldn’t have been able to afford it (not that it was completely affordable here–I spent 1/3rd of my gross income that year on medical expenses and am still paying down debt from back then). My back pain would have increased–I would have likely ended up on disability, after going bankrupt trying to figure out what was wrong first.
Governor Scott was arguing that even though the federal government covers 100% of the costs of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years and 90% after that, that it was too expensive for Florida to help the poorest Floridians in this way. Independent agencies argued with his numbers, noting that he was ignoring important factors, like how expensive it is for taxpayers when people like me end up in the ER. His Congress told him his numbers were wrong.
After fighting and fighting and fighting, he revised his numbers to about 10th his original net cost estimate.
Yesterday, he did a full reversal and has committed to allowing the federal government help those in need in his state for at least three years: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/02/20/172523730/in-reversal-florida-gov-rick-scott-agrees-to-medicaid-expansion :
“‘Quality health care services must be accessible and affordable for all — not just those in certain ZIP codes or tax brackets,’ he said at the briefing. ‘No mother, or father, should despair over whether or not they can afford — or access — the health care their child needs. While the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.'”
He also said that the death of his mother helped put things into perspective.
Governor Scott was not governor when I was in Florida. I’m glad he’s been able to use tragedy positively–to allow himself to gain empathy and clarity.
I just wish politicians like Scott were touched by the rest of us, instead of just by what seems to affect their own families.
When I was struggling in Florida, I was someone’s mother. Although it may have given my son a lesson in basic universal rights and strengthened his ability to empathize, it would have been terrible for him to lose me to a preventable asthma attack or the pneumonia that almost took me away from him. He already had to deal with a mommy who said, “I’m sorry; I can’t pick you up, baby.” You see, even though he was still light as a young elementary student, there was no way the mystery pain in my back would allow me to play with him with the way I wanted to.
Governor Scott, the citizens this Medicaid program will help are my mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. They were always special to me. I was always special to them. We have always deserved to have access to the healthcare that could keep us alive, working, and supporting each other.
I’m glad you might finally see that.