Needless human suffering is the biggest heartbreak a medical professional could ever witness. In 35 years of nursing, I have seen far too many people fall through the holes of the American medical system. All too often, the uninsured delay care for fear of bankrupting their families, and wind up in far worse health. And when people must resort to emergency rooms for care, everybody’s health costs skyrocket.
My own family worked hard and lived the American dream. Frank, my husband, was a transportation operations manager for a local company. I owned a business that employed about 25 people, and we traveled around the Northwest providing medical care to soldiers preparing to deploy.
Then in 2007 the economy plummeted and Frank was laid off. Suddenly, we no longer had health insurance, which was unaffordable through my work.
By early 2009, I sensed something was wrong: Frank was getting weak, losing weight and suffering pain. It tore me up to see him suffer. But he refused to see a doctor for fear the bills would bankrupt us. His pain got so bad he lost control of his legs and fell. At that point he finally let me take him to Southwest Washington Medical Center. There he was diagnosed with advanced cancer.
If only we had insurance when his symptoms first arose, I am confident he would be in much better health today, at a fraction of the cost. Instead, he was hospitalized approximately 14 times, and nearly lost the use of his legs.
Between caring for Frank, who is now disabled, and my elderly mother-in-law, I had to stop working. Frank now has Medicare and Medicaid, and we scrape by with his Social Security, visits to the food bank and $16 a month in food stamps. But I remain uninsured.
It terrifies me to be one accident or one illness away from calamity. Like many Americans, I am nervous about what federal health reform will mean. It is hard to parse through all the rhetoric. But one thing strikes me as a no-brainer: Our state should take the federal government up on its offer to expand Medicaid enrollment to those with income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level who are too young for Medicare. More than 261,000 of our friends and neighbors, who are now falling through the cracks, will be covered. I am one of those people.
Currently, our state pays 50 percent of Medicaid expenses. Under the Affordable Care Act, the feds are now offering to foot the whole bill for the new group for the first three years and then gradually reduce their share to 90 percent in 2020. This will save countless lives and millions of our precious state tax dollars.
I applaud Gov. Gregoire for including Medicaid expansion in her budget proposal and urge our incoming governor and state lawmakers to adopt it. It is the clear choice for our state and our people.
Cynthia Miceli of Vancouver is a registered nurse with more than 35 years of experience. She formerly owned and managed Assessment & Nursing Services, which employed more than 20 Clark County medical professionals.