I was on Med­i­caid as a child. Trump’s plan is dis­as­trous.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Singletary

When my si­b­lings and I went to live with my grand­mother, we were a sickly bunch.

There were five of us. My older sis­ter was 8. I was 4. The sis­ter un­der me was 3, and my twin brothers were 1.

We were all un­der­nour­ished.

My brother Mitchell had seizures al­most ev­ery night. He would lose con­scious­ness and thrash about so much that he would wake up his twin, with whom he shared a bed. Ini­tially, my grand­mother didn’t know what was caus­ing the seizures. We didn’t have health care.

My grand­mother would rush to Mitchell’s side and then wake us all up to help tend to him. We later found out he had epilepsy. De­spite try­ing var­i­ous med­i­ca­tions and dosages — even a con­sul­ta­tion at Johns Hop­kins for brain surgery — my brother’s grand mal seizures could never be con­trolled, a fact that pre­vented him from keep­ing a job. He died at 32 from a mas­sive seizure.

Both of my brothers needed glasses. Had Mitchell not died young, he would have prob­a­bly gone blind from glau­coma.

My younger sis­ter had a se­vere case of eczema. She scratched so much that she had dry ashen patches all over her legs and arms. She also had food al­ler­gies

and asthma.

And I had ju­ve­nile rheuma­toid arthri­tis. Walk­ing was difficult. At one point, the joint pain in my legs was so ex­cru­ci­at­ing that I crum­bled to the ground dur­ing re­cess as I tried to cross the school­yard. I spent a sum­mer in the hos­pi­tal get­ting phys­i­cal ther­apy.

Af­ter my grand­mother took us in, she ap­plied for med­i­cal as­sis­tance through Med­i­caid. It was the only thing she ever asked for from the state. With five grand­chil­dren to care for and only a low-wage nurs­ing aide job, she could have got­ten fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. But Big Mama re­fused the money.

“No, I only want the med­i­cal in­sur­ance,” she re­called telling the so­cial worker.

Big Mama was too proud to ac­cept the money but she knew she didn’t make enough to get the treat­ment and medicine we all needed.

My grand­mother found a god­send of a pe­di­a­tri­cian in West Baltimore who took Med­i­caid. Dr. Eric White would keep his row­house of­fice open late in the evenings so that Big Mama could bring all five of us in for care. She couldn’t af­ford to take off from work dur­ing the day.

I’ll never for­get the vis­its to Dr. White. When it was time for im­mu­niza­tions, there would be a cho­rus of cries as we all got our shots to­gether.

As I read about the GOP’s cur­rent plan to re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act, I’m dis­mayed by the pro­posal to roll back Med­i­caid ben­e­fits. I take it per­son­ally.

Med­i­caid, which is ad­min­is­tered by the states, pro­vides health cov­er­age to the poor. Fund­ing for the pro­gram is shared be­tween the state and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Repub­li­cans want to cap the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, ar­gu­ing that it could force states to in­no­vate and thus re­duce costs.

But what if that doesn’t hap­pen? What if states, un­der fi­nan­cial pres­sure, just cut their Med­i­caid rolls?

I fear for the folks who would be left with­out cov­er­age. I don’t take for granted that I owe my good health to a sys­tem that never turned its back on me. And that in­vest­ment paid off. I was able to stay in school, go to col­lege and even­tu­ally pro­vide for my own chil­dren. It broke what could have been a cy­cle of poverty.

The non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice es­ti­mates that the Repub­li­can plan for re­plac­ing Oba­macare, which ex­panded Med­i­caid, would result in a reduction of $880 bil­lion in fed­eral out­lays for the pro­gram.

That fig­ure rep­re­sents mil­lions of Amer­i­cans — in­clud­ing chil­dren — with­out health cov­er­age who will suf­fer. It’s Mitchell. It’s my younger sis­ter. It’s me.

In the states that ex­panded Med­i­caid, the peo­ple who ben­e­fit are “hard-work­ing peo­ple in lowwage jobs that do not of­fer health in­sur­ance — like waiters and wait­resses, sales clerks, cooks and home health aides,” points out Fam­i­lies USA, a lib­eral-lean­ing con­sumer ad­vo­cacy group.

That in­cludes peo­ple like my grand­mother, who took in five chil­dren and asked only for some help to make sure they re­ceived de­cent med­i­cal care.

Con­sumers Union, the pol­icy arm of Con­sumer Re­ports, also took a look at the GOP’s health care leg­is­la­tion, known as the Amer­i­can Health Care Act (AHCA). The group gave it an F.

“In the AHCA, many mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, from chil­dren to se­niors, will be left unin­sured or with in­sur­ance that falls short of their needs,” the re­port card con­cluded. “It also cuts Med­i­caid for our most vul­ner­a­ble con­sumers and shifts the costs and risks of this short­fall to the states.”

I preach and teach about per­sonal fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. Yet I’m the ben­e­fi­ciary of an en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram that rec­og­nizes the hu­man­ity in pro­vid­ing ac­cess to af­ford­able health care to the less for­tu­nate.

Big Mama, the grand­daugh­ter of slaves, worked hard all her life. If she could have avoided get­ting med­i­cal as­sis­tance, she would have. But I spent my child­hood on Med­i­caid, and I’m so grate­ful that there was a safety net for my si­b­lings and me.


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