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The Private Option passed in Arkansas. Now I can re-emerge.

Supporters of Arkansas's Private Option at the Arkansas State Capitol, Feb. 24, 2014
Supporters of Arkansas's Private Option at the Arkansas State Capitol, Feb. 24, 2014

Supporters of Arkansas’s Private Option at the Arkansas State Capitol, Feb. 24, 2014

I haven’t been here in nearly two months. This has been an extremely stressful two months, because my state has faced some horrible opposition to our state’s unique version of the Medicaid Expansion offered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It’s called the “Private Option,” and it uses federal dollars intended for Medicaid to be used to purchase private insurance plans for Arkansans at up to 138% of the poverty line.

As someone who works primarily from home and cannot get a standard full-time job with benefits, this was of great importance to me and my family. I’ve discussed my role as a caregiver before, but for those of you who are new or may have forgotten, here’s my story that I sent out to many state legislators:

I am a live-in caregiver for my mother, who is in Stage IV renal failure. I also work from home and have a part-time job at a company that is still in its first year of operation and does not yet have the profits or ability to provide employee benefits. My mother was hospitalized three times in 2013. There are many occasions in which if I was not here for her, she would have died. I need to be healthy so I can stay in the home for my mother, who is not healthy.

That’s the short version. The truth is, my mother has come to many close and frightening moments. And I’m really interested in keeping her around for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, I’d been self-paying for all my health care for the past four years. Uninsured, I paid for my doctors’ appointments in cash, I searched online for prescription discount cards that would knock a few bucks off my medication, ordered prescriptions from Canada if they were cheaper, and I spent approximately $300 per month on my medical care. During this time I also found a lump in my breast and went in for a mammogram, which unfortunately is not paid for by charitable organizations to women who are in their thirties.

I’m amazed I haven’t developed a serious ulcer.

I signed up for the expansion as soon as possible, and on Jan. 1, I was covered. On Jan. 2, I was able to visit my primary care physician – the same one I’ve had for 8 years. That same day, I headed to Walgreens and purchased prescriptions that would normally have cost me about $180 for $5. This including my asthma inhaler, which I had not been able to replace in years because of the expense.

This has been so important to me it hurts – and I have been sorely hurt by people who think that I don’t deserve to have health care just because my mother needs me around and I’d rather have her spend time with me and the dog than at some assisted living facility.

I have put so much time in the past couple of months trying to get the private option passed. All it took was for a friend of mine to get the most ridiculous email from Arkansas State Senator Bart Hester. This person wrote at least two people I know that a family of four making $94K/year qualifies for the Medicaid expansion (When in actuality, the most a family of four can make is around $32,500/year). This man, and many others who didn’t even know about the legislation they were voting on, were in charge of our future and our health. We knew it was time to act.

We got the email exchange he received to the media, including the Arkansas Times story you see above, and Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz, who wrote an op-ed on Arkansas’ private option and Sen. Hester’s feelings on it.  Thus began a serious dialogue about the complete disconnect between some of our legislators and our citizens – particularly how many employed citizens of this state cannot access health coverage otherwise. We got more than 800 Arkansans to sign a petition asking their legislators to vote for the public option. We got people – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, the entire political spectrum – calling, writing personal messages, telling their stories.

This was one of them that made us say, “This is why we’re doing this:”

I am one of the many who use to not have insurance. I don’t understand why because I work as a health aide for the Health Department that deems my health worthless. I had no options and my only option I ever got through working for an agency was over 300 dollars just to insure myself a month. All I ever wanted was affordable insurance. As far as I am concerned no one cares about us. We clean your hotels, your hospital rooms, take care of your grandparents or parents, and the list goes on. However we don’t deserve insurance because we quote chose to be poor. I wish you thought our lives meant something.But mainly, we have saved our state $89 million, kept our only teaching hospital from closing, and have ensured that those of us who own our own businesses, work two or more jobs, work from home or care for our parents can get some health coverage and never worry about a catastrophic event ruining their lives.

The state Senate passed the Private Option immediately, but State Speaker of the House Davy Carter had to hold five votes for it to finally pass. I can’t even begin to tell you about the bickering that ensued. But mainly, we have saved our state $89 million, kept our only teaching hospital from closing, and have ensured that those of us who own our own businesses, work two or more jobs, work from home or care for our parents can get some health coverage and never worry about a catastrophic event ruining their lives. We’ve also set up a way for the Private Option to be paid for when it is not completely paid for by the federal government in three years.

I don’t have to worry about my bosses moving to another state just so they can get healthcare for the entire family. I don’t have to worry about having a horrible asthma attack. My friends don’t have to worry about themselves or their children or their parents, siblings and extended family.

Most importantly? Services for our foster children and our developmentally and intellectually disabled will continue because of this passage. When these people are left out in the cold, what kind of humans have we become?

So basically, during my sabbatical from my website, I’ve been spending a lot of time fighting hard for myself and the most vulnerable people in my state. I hope I don’t have to get the battleaxe out for a while. But now I’m a bit more prepared.

It’s good to be back.

Supporters of Arkansas's Private Option at the Arkansas State Capitol, Feb. 24, 2014

Supporters of Arkansas’s Private Option at the Arkansas State Capitol, Feb. 24, 2014

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