I was proud to attend a “Thank You for Expanding Medicaid” rally on the Capitol steps this morning and receive a giant “Thank You” card signed by dozens of members of the Healthy Washington Coalition.
The rally showcased individuals who shared their stories about how health care reform has helped them. They are among the quarter million Washingtonians who now have comprehensive health coverage through Apple Health.
John Teanio, a 44-year-old Olympia resident who has four sons, explained how he could not afford treatment for his severe depression, anxiety and high blood pressure while a rash of everyday injuries accrued by his four growing boys left John with steep medical debts. His lack of dental insurance led to severe problems with his teeth, which in turn handicapped his ability to interview effectively when applying for jobs. Those who saw and heard John this morning, saw an upbeat, optimistic man who is now able to get the treatment he needs and fix his teeth — and is now brimming with confidence.
Another person to tell her story, Vanessa Petrocelli, is a nurse at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. In her work in the orthopedic trauma unit, Vanessa treats people with serious injuries every day — and many of them have not had health coverage. Typically they are people who never expect to get hurt but suffer serious injuries and wind up with stiff medical bills or debts. These days, Vanessa devotes time away from her job to speak with small business owners and individuals, helping them acquire affordable health care. Vanessa knows the consequences firsthand—she deals with them every day on the job — and now she helps others understand the importance as well.
The last person scheduled to share a story never got to tell it because she was hospitalized Monday after breaking and ankle and suffering other injuries on her farm. That was the bad news. But the good news is that she now has health coverage under Washington Apple Health, thanks directly to the Medicaid expansion — something she was without until only a few weeks ago.
No matter how you look at it, these are very heartening stories about how Medicaid expansion helps real people every day — and just a tip of the iceberg that is the tens of thousands of Washingtonians who have similarly gone from the constant threat of jeopardy to their health to the security of knowing they are covered for life’s unexpected problems. As of this week, 323,762 Washingtonians who previously had no health care have enrolled in Washington Apple Health since October.
The only sad note in all of this is that there are still some who ignore these success stories and insist we should repeal the laws that finally made health coverage accessible. As recently as the 2013 legislative session, 16 Republican senators voted to strip forbid the expansion of Medicaid in our state. What made their votes all the more mystifying is that the budget these same lawmakers voted to pass depended on savings achievable only by the Medicaid expansion; without the expansion and the resulting savings, we would have had to find nearly $300 million somewhere else to balance the budget.
But they failed — fortunately — and today tens of thousands of Washingtonians have the affordable health care that was denied them and their families for too, too long.