COMMENTARY: If someone had told me when I signed up for Medicaid that I would make such extensive use of it, I wouldn’t have believed it. I first enrolled in Medicaid about 2.5 years ago when I was a graduate student. My university had just given qualifying students the opportunity to enroll in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I was a healthy 29-year-old with no preexisting conditions and doubted I would ever use health insurance.
Little did I know, completing the Medicaid application would be one of the most important decisions I ever made.
A few months after enrolling in Medicaid, I had a seizure for the first time in my life. I wound up needing an MRI, EEG and the care of a neurologist. I was worried something might be seriously wrong with my health. Truthfully, I was also terrified about the bills I could receive for my treatment.
When I had the seizure, the stress that my health might be in jeopardy was increased exponentially by the thought of what my treatment might cost. I was very relieved to learn that I was suffering from a seizure disorder that could be controlled with medication. I was also incredibly grateful that Medicaid significantly reduced all of my medical bills. I could afford the treatment I needed, and I have not had a seizure since.
This episode was my first chance to learn the true value of Medicaid and health care coverage, but it was not my last. In the beginning of 2016, during my last semester of grad school, I learned that I had inherited a BRCA 1 genetic mutation that greatly increases my chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age. Because of my family’s history of breast cancer, I needed to make sure I was cancer-free immediately.
In a few short months, I had my first breast MRI and mammogram and met with a breast surgeon and gynecological oncologist. When my breast MRI revealed a mass that my doctors feared was cancer, I had my first biopsy and spent a very long week waiting for the results. While I was incredibly relieved to learn the mass was not cancer, the experience confirmed for me what I already knew: I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life getting MRIs and mammograms every six months with inevitable future scares, or worse yet, a cancer diagnosis.
I decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy and significantly reduce my chances of developing breast cancer.
In August 2016, I had a prophylactic mastectomy and spent a month recovering. I had a follow-up surgery to make some adjustments in October. I’ve had many visits with my incredible breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. When reality proved difficult to process, I was able to access counseling. Medicaid has covered both surgeries, all of my doctor’s visits and the therapy I received. Moreover, when I’ve had questions for Centennial Care, they have been very helpful.
Medicaid has allowed me to focus on my recovery instead of the stress of paying enormous medical bills. Having health coverage has given me the peace of mind during a challenging year.
Sometimes I have felt guilty for having to utilize Medicaid at a time in my life that has proven to be so medically and financially complicated. Friends and family have been good enough to remind me that this is what Medicaid is about: ensuring that Americans can afford to take care of their health, regardless of their financial state, when an issue strikes. The Affordable Care Act has made this a reality for more people than ever before; I am so grateful to be one of them.
Soon, I will have my final surgery and I can’t wait to move my life and career forward. I look forward to paying taxes (I swear, I really do) to support programs like Medicaid so I can do my part to assist people who find themselves in a situation similar to the one I face.
At the same time, I am scared for what the future will bring for those many individuals who have insurance through the Affordable Care Act. I worry that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my preexisting condition will make it impossible for me to get insurance. I worry that if New Mexico does not fully fund Medicaid, people in my situation will not be able to get the care they need.
There are no words that would adequately express my gratitude to all those who worked so tirelessly to make the Affordable Care Act happen. I am so hopeful that instead of destroying the Affordable Care Act our leaders will work to make it stronger — so all Americans can get the health care they deserve.
If you agree with me, I hope you will take action to protect the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. Call and write your elected officials at the national and state level. Tell them what these programs mean to you, your family, and your community. Join local groups, like the Health Action Network, that advocate for the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. And share your story — it makes a difference. Together, we can protect health care for New Mexico.
Elena is a New Mexican who utilized Medicaid Centennial Care. She has requested that only her first name be used in order to protect her health privacy.