By Sarah Handley-Cousins
When my first child was born, I had just started my second year of a Master’s program in History. Her father was going into his second year of law school. It wasn’t exactly the best time to have a baby. We were broke, working part-time, and going to school. We were nervous, but also excited to start this adventure together. We managed to meticulously plan our schedules so we could avoid astronomical childcare fees, made sure we had plenty of diapers and pacifiers and onesies, and felt at least somewhat confident that we were ready to be parents.
The one thing we didn’t think about, not even once, until our daughter arrived was health insurance. Both my partner and I were still on our parents’ insurance, and it simply never occurred to me that I had no way of making sure she would have health coverage. This seems embarrassingly naïve to me now, but I had barely been out of my parents’ house for a year, and had only a working knowledge of the basics of grown-up life.
It turned out that under our parents’ insurance policies, our newborn daughter was ineligible to receive the same benefits. When we received a bill for thousands of dollars for the care she received in the hours after her birth, we panicked.
Thankfully, hospital social workers came to the rescue. Their tools of salvation: Medicaid enrollment forms. We discovered that Medicaid provides coverage for children of low-income households, regardless of the insurance status of their parents. After we filled out the paperwork, our daughter was covered, and all the hospital bills retroactively covered. It was a godsend.
Without Medicaid, we would have gone into debt paying our daughters’ medical bills.
Without Medicaid, my partner would not have been able to graduate from law school, and establish the successful career that he now has.
Without Medicaid, I would not have earned two Master’s degrees, which made it possible for me to start a career in teaching, writing, and studying history.
Like many people who use Medicaid, our need was temporary. Within two years, I got a job as a university teaching assistant, and was able to get affordable benefits for our entire family. Today, my current workplace provides our health care.
My Medicaid story is just one of millions. There are many Americans who need Medicaid for short periods or throughout their lives: Mothers of disabled children who would never be able to afford much-needed medications. Disabled adults who need home health aides. People facing unemployment and a cancer diagnosis. People who would die without access to the health care that Medicaid provides.
Medicaid provides access to health care for people when they need the help the most. It is an absolute necessity in our current socio-economic system in the United States, where medical services aren’t a right, but a privilege for those who have the means to pay for it. Without services like Medicaid, only the wealthy would be able to become lawyers and go to graduate school while having the children they have always wanted. The rest would be forced to set aside their ambitions to take the first job that offers benefits, or, of course, go hopelessly into debt.
Without Medicaid, Americans’ lives will be shortened, changed, or ruined. As long as we live within an American system of economic inequality, we must save this vital health care program.
Sarah Handley-Cousins is a historian and writer living in Buffalo, New York.
Featured Image: San Francisco Protests for Medicaid, September 2016. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images