There’s been something weighing heavy on my heart for months now. I haven’t shared it with you because I have been worried it would appear political. It’s not political. It’s personal. And because it’s part of my struggle after loss, I’m nervously going to be transparent about this, too. So I’m saying a big prayer, closing my eyes and with a big gulp, am about to reveal a very personal thing. I pray you’ll read this with an open mind and an extra grace-filled heart when I confess to you that MY family is on Medicaid.
When I married my husband, I was able to quit my job and become a stay-at-home Mom. My husband became our family’s sole income. He worked so hard and took great pride in providing for us. It was his salary that paid our bills and allowed us decent health insurance. He was a PhD and brought home a good income. We lived comfortably. I recognized this privilege while living it and was beyond grateful for it.
Years later when he became ill, a lot of our money was spent on medications, at-home health services, medical bills and special equipment. We adjusted, but watched with fear as our savings depleted. Being sick costs a lot of money, but we were managing.
After he died, there was no more income from his job. There was no more health insurance. Because he worked so hard for so many years, there was Social Security survivor benefits available for us, something not all people qualify for. I was grateful for that. Because his income was good, we were able to live comfortably, with adjustments, on this new, reduced income. However, health insurance was a trickier situation. I looked into buying a plan and was sent to Medicaid because we qualified.
I could have continued the coverage we had, but the COBRA premium was more than our new monthly income. Sure, I could have immediately tried to find a new career after caring for my husband and children for over a decade, but my kids were facing so many new, scary changes like transitioning to public school and trying to regulate their own grief emotions. I knew they needed me. They needed me to be there before and after school. They needed me to be the one taking them to their frequent counseling appointments. They needed me. They needed SOMETHING in their lives to stay the same, to stay consistent, stable and secure.
Even though I know with certainty this was the right decision for us… guilt, fear, shame and embarrassment smother me every day. I listen to people who don’t know our full situation make callous, judgmental and unkind statements about Medicaid and the people on it. It seems many people view Medicaid recipients as lazy, manipulating-the-system types. And that makes me feel sad and ashamed. It makes me feel less than. It makes me wonder… Is that who we are now? Are we suddenly bad, lazy and immoral members of society because we found ourselves in a difficult, life-changing situation?
My husband and I both worked for years paying into systems like Medicaid with each paycheck. And yet the opinions I can’t help but hear make me feel wrong to be relying on it if even for a temporary period of time as I try to move forward after loss. The spoken and unspoken but inferred judgment makes me feel irresponsible to be on Medicaid while I work hard to try to build a career that will one day, God-willing, allow us to buy affordable private insurance. It makes me feel shameful to have an iPhone and a minivan and a safe home while being on Medicaid, even though all of these things were acquired long before my husband’s death.
On TV, in the newspapers, on social media, and in overheard conversations at the store, I feel the judgment. They are talking about me, but do they know that? Are we the family they imagine when they throw mean-spirited words around? Are we the family that comes to their minds when they blame “poor people without jobs” for driving up their health care premiums? Are we the people that disgust them for being on Medicaid while driving a decent car or using an iPhone?
I didn’t ask for my husband to become ill. I didn’t ask for the level of in-home care he required to NOT be covered by insurance. I didn’t ask to be an unpaid, full-time caregiver for years. I didn’t wish for my kids and I to require frequent counseling. And I didn’t hope that one day we would be a family of four instead of five, living off a small fraction of what we once did. But this is what happened after my husband died. This is our new reality. And Medicaid is there for us. And so, as difficult as it is, we opted to rely on this safety net for now, while we heal, plan and work hard for a better future.
I know we aren’t alone; after all, nearly 70 million Americans rely on Medicaid. That’s one in five people! In fact, Medicaid is the largest insurer in the country. Some Medicaid recipients are old, some are young, some disabled, and some had the financial wind knocked out of them and are trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives. I don’t know their stories, and I try not to assume I do. But I know they have one.
What I want you all to know is that I’m not lazy. I’m not intentionally “milking the system.” I am trying my best to rebuild our lives. I’m working very hard to “pull myself up by my bootstraps” but that takes time. I am taking necessary steps available to care for my family’s financial, physical, emotional and spiritual needs. I recognize the privilege in this, as I’m sure there are other families that can’t pay all of their bills with survivor benefits. In fact, I’m sure some don’t even qualify for them. They have no choice in their scenario. That is why I pray one day I’ll be able to sponsor one of these families to help soften the blow… to give them a month or two to regroup and heal. I’m a LONG way from that goal, but I pray about that and think about them daily. I want to help them find a little security they may not otherwise have.
But right now I’m not feeling very secure myself. Being a widow Mom has devastating effects on self-confidence. There are so many fears to battle every day as I try to make the best choices for my kids and myself. Self-worth has taken a hit and worry often prevails over faith. On top of the usual worries, I now worry about Medicaid. What will we do if it is taken from us? What about my son’s pre-existing condition? Will he be able to get his meds? Will we be able to afford his meds? Will they still be able to go to counseling? Who will care for them before and after school and at what cost financially? What employer will allow me to take so much time off for appointments and calls and meetings from the school? These things are constantly swirling through my mind every single day. I am re-evaluating my options constantly. And still, at this time, I come back to what we are doing right now is the very best thing for us. It isn’t permanent, but it’s the best thing for the right now as we continue to heal and work on reconstructing our life.
I don’t know the battles people are fighting privately. A nice house, a nice car, or an “everything is fine here” smile do not always reveal a wounded heart, paralyzing fear or disabling insecurity. I don’t know if divorce, illness, abuse, grief or job loss is happening in their lives. It would be wrong of me to make assumptions or judgments, although I’m sure I’m sometimes guilty of it. And it’s for sure not giving people extra grace if I make these judgments.
I know firsthand how life can change in an instant. I have learned how one event can leave you devastated emotionally, physically and/or financially. I have learned no one is exempt from being in a situation where help and grace is required. I’ve learned how the cruelty of this life does not discriminate. And that is why I wish we’d love each other more with understanding, kindness, encouragement and support instead of judgment, blame, shame, hurtful words and cruel assumptions. Needing a hand up sometimes is a mostly universal human condition.
We ALL need extra grace. Every day, but especially when this world knocks us down. Let’s do our best to give this gift to one another, OK? Let’s show love by offering grace… maybe even some EXTRA grace.
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