Commentary: Expanded Medicaid would support Utah families

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Health Policy Project, hundreds of citizens and advocates of the governor's plan to expand Medicaid attend a rally on March 5, 2015.

In 2008 I had my first teaching job. I was earning a good salary and also earning benefits. Together with what my husband was earning, we were making it. We were even earning enough that we bought a house — everyone’s American dream!

I never thought I would need Medicaid or any form of government assistance.

I was a hard worker from an upper-middle-class family. We were self-sufficient. We were responsible. Then the recession hit. My husband was laid off a week after our first child was born. We worked as hard as we could to provide for our family, and to be self-reliant. As we struggled to work and pay for child care, I became a family child care provider so that the cost of childcare wouldn’t cut into my take-home pay. We learned to live frugally, had a second child and were happy.

Then, we decided my husband would go back to school so we could better support our family and be self-reliant. We carefully examined our budget before my husband cut back a few days at work to go to school. We knew we could make it work. We were shocked that year to find ourselves in “the gap.” We didn’t make enough money to qualify for the Affordable Care Act and we made too much money to qualify for Medicaid. How was this possible? How could we make too much and too little at the same time? Pre-existing conditions made private insurance unattainable. My husband’s medication at times cost more than our rent.

Our inability to be consistently insured over the next several years ate away at our meager savings and made every small bump in the road a major financial strain. One year we would make “just the right amount” and be insured through the ACA. Some years the children would qualify for CHIP, so they would get their annual appointments, antibiotics for ear infections, and we would put a little money away in savings. Then, 12 months later, we would be told we made $100 too much a month to be on CHIP but still made too little for the ACA. This meant our savings would again be drained to pay for necessary prescriptions and occasional Urgent Care visits. I often dream about how much money we would have in savings if we had been consistently insured.

Medicaid is the largest health care program in the country. It provides care to 70 million Americans, roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population. One out of three children receives Medicaid/CHIP benefits. Every single one of those children deserves the best, healthiest start to life possible. We have to stop making Medicaid a taboo subject. Poverty is not a choice. When health care is inaccessible or unaffordable it hurts Utah families. Even being uninsured for a brief time, can have lasting effects on a family’s ability to be self-reliant and secure.

Please vote yes on Proposition 3 in November. Proposition 3 provides access to Medicaid for more than 150,000 Utahns who are earning under $17,000 per year for individuals, or parents earning less than $34,000 per year for a family of four. It ensures hard-working Utahns who earn a promotion or work more hours won’t have their health care taken away. It helps Utahns onto the path of self-reliance as they pull themselves out of poverty. Medicaid rewards hard work instead of punishing it by cutting off a family’s health care. Utah is the most family-friendly state and Medicaid supports families.

Kat Martinez

Kat Martinez, Murray, is a mother of three and health care advocate.