Opinion: Cutting Medicaid unravels my health

Israel ParámoYoung Invincibles

Jun 28, 2017


I did the hard part. I ended a three-year-long toxic relationship. Now all that was left was to pick up my remaining belongings, including my beloved pet birds, from my ex’s place. When I arrived to pick them up, he attacked me. I tried to escape, and suffered an arm injury that left me hospitalized.

Emergency rooms are filled with people shocked from unexpected accidents. Ironically, it’s also a place where the expectation is to have a safety net. After a friend sped me to the hospital, I was met with near immediate rejection—all because I didn’t have insurance. It was 2008 then, long before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enabled me to get covered thanks to Medicaid expansion. Not having coverage prevented me from getting a critical surgery, stunting my future. And now I feel like I might go through the same cycle all over again, my access to care once more under attack, but this time it’s Congress’s devastating cuts to Medicaid that could limit my access to care.

I’m not a careless person; health care was just a service that had been out of my reach financially. I was earning $12 an hour at my customer service job. Before that, I was balancing work with college. I struggled to maintain friendships and experienced severe mood swings. I saw a therapist when I could—and he immediately told me he saw my life as a derailing train. My declining mental health became a barrier too high to successfully participate in group projects, and sometimes even to complete classes. I dropped out only a semester before graduation. That was my reality when I didn’t have health care.

But starting in 2014, thanks to the ACA, I finally got the consistent mental health care that I needed. I had a new partner at the time who connected me to a therapist and supported me throughout my mental health journey. As for my injury from the attack, I met a surgeon from the hospital who challenged his staff and sewed my arm despite my lack of insurance. I have about 60 percent mobility in my fingers, which is a challenge at work, but my therapist and I work through my frustrations.

Medicaid and its mental health services have changed and saved my life, but the health care plan that President Trump and Republicans in Congress are working on behind closed doors would end Medicaid as we know it by making drastic cuts. It is not surprising they would want to shield this plan from public scrutiny, because these Medicaid cuts would force states like Illinois to narrow eligibility, ration benefits, and narrow provider networks, threatening my access to lifesaving care. I cannot financially, physically, or mentally afford to go back to lacking care.

Not only would the Republican health care repeal plan limit access to coverage for the most vulnerable Illinoisans, the latest version of the plan would cost people like me who have a pre-existing condition a lot more. Are these changes that Governor Rauner supports? If not, Illinoisans with pre-existing conditions need a vocal champion, not a passive leader who is timid about taking on his own party, to stand up for the health security of our state. Demand that President Trump and Republicans in Congress stop their attack on my health care. I am working hard to earn housing and go back to school, and I want to reach my full potential. But it will be much harder, if not impossible, to turn my dreams into reality if Congress takes away my health care.

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