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Voices of Struggle and Frustration Plead for Medicaid Expansion

by Eric S. Peterson
- Posted // 2013-02-19 -

A legislative committee this morning heard numerous voices of support for Medicaid expansion. Third-year medical-school student Lindsi Roundy could no longer juggle school and her full-time job that provided the insurance to cover treatment of her multiple sclerosis. “I am an Honor student. I scored in the 98th percentile of my boards and I walked into my Dean’s office with a letter of resignation,” Roundy testified.

Roundy couldn’t juggle school work and the demands of caring for her special-needs daughter. Since her daughter was covered by her father’s military insurance, Roundy herself was unable to qualify for Medicaid. “That leaves me with very few options,” Roundy testified. Her testimony was one of more than a dozen, all beseeching the Legislature’s Social Services Appropriation Committee to consider expansion of Medicaid as offered under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The proposed expansion is a volatile issue on the Hill this year. If approved, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of insuring low-income non-disabled adults without children who are currently excluded from Medicaid for the first three years. Over the course of seven years, the fed's portion will drop to 90 percent. Non-disabled individuals without children who earn less than $14,856 annually could get Medicaid for the first time, and organizations could dramatically improve mental illness- and substance-abuse-treatment programming.

Balanced against the gain, however, is lawmakers’ concern that expanding Medicaid to as many as 145,000 uncovered Utahns could bankrupt the state, as was reported in City Weekly’s recent feature, “Who Deserves Healthcare?”.

Roundy, however, was not the only one to offer testimony of how Medicaid expansion could help provide an economic benefit. Claudia Fruin of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians cited reports of economic advantages to be had from expansion.

“According to a report by Families USA and the Utah Health Policy Project, 6,000 new jobs could be created [because of Medicaid expansion] and these would not all be health-care related,” Fruin said.

Shawn McMillan, a recovered addict of 33 years, argued that investing in substance-abuse treatment gives people like himself the chance to turn their lives around and give back to the system instead of draining it. Since beating drugs and alcohol, McMillan has gained a full-time job and two degrees from the University of Utah. “People who struggle with substance-abuse disorders can be fully employable, engaged citizens,” McMillan said.

One woman testified that Medicaid not only eased her physical suffering but gave her the opportunity to follow her academic dreams.

“I left home at 18, excited to start college, and that was a crazy feat for me because I was born with a genetic illness that causes my skin to crack and blister very easily,” said Jamie Hartley. Her illness required constant care that was provided for by her parents. Trying to juggle her own well-being with college life, however, became a serious problem for Hartley. “I lasted about five weeks before I caught sepsis -- a severe infection,” she said.

Luckily, Hartley was able to qualify for Medicaid and receive home-nursing services to help her manage her condition and eventually graduate an honor student from Brigham Young University.

“It’s made the difference for me to be productive in society,” Hartley said.

The committee did not respond specifically to public comment but did hear testimony that a cost/benefit analysis report drafted by an outside consultant would soon be made publicly available, hopefully, within the week.

To find your legislator and discuss Medicaid expansion, click here. For more updates from the Hill, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.

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