Progressives have never met an entitlement program they didn’t like. Americans’ love affair with free things, even when they cost us dearly in increased taxes, regulatory costs, limitations on choice, and more, ensures that once an entitlement program is passed, the only change we will see to it is expansion. That is ultimately why Obamacare will never be repealed and why the only change that has happened in the 52 years since Medicare and Medicaid were signed into law is the growth of the entitlement programs.
On its face, Medicaid sounds like a worthy and worthwhile use of American taxpayer resources. If a family cannot afford medical care, society has a moral obligation to ensure they receive it. Conservatives argue that the obligation may not belong to the state, but that the poor, disabled, orphaned, and widowed among us still need medical care provided by society as a whole. In the many iterations of Obamacare reform, one of the proposals put on the table was a limit to expanding Medicaid rolls in future years. That attempt alone met shrill cries of “But what about the children?” from the Left. To progressives, wanting to limit the expansion of health welfare is akin to killing poor American children.
Since most in the media and on Capitol Hill come from upper-middle-class households, few seem to spend time talking to those Americans on Medicaid rolls. Media and politics are two industries where most need to spend some time as an unpaid intern to work their way up the low-paid ranks, a luxury most families who might be on Medicaid cannot afford. So what is it like growing up on Medicaid? Let me tell you, because it’s unpleasant.
The Poor Get the Scraps
My mother, a single mother and social worker, became disabled when I was ten years old and soon began receiving Social Security disability benefits, among other government programs. With both parents deceased now, my memory is a bit hazy on timing, but at some point around this age I was enrolled in New York state’s program Child Health Plus, a plan just a step above Medicaid for families on the bottom tier of earnings in the state. Living in a trailer park with a disabled mother and an absent father, I certainly qualified.
We soon discovered, however, that the doctors and dentists who accepted my insurance plan weren’t exactly of the highest quality. Considering the low payouts and the amount of legwork necessary to obtain them, doctors with enough of a reputation or experience never had to accept Medicaid. They were making enough accepting private insurance plans. Out of a sense of moral obligation, a few local doctors accepted a handful of Medicaid patients as a courtesy, but wait lists were long to get into a decent doctor’s office while on Medicaid.
My mother had a private insurance plan, which she paid for out of pocket. That’s something we could never afford today, now that Obamacare has obliterated low-cost plans. I was allowed to be one of her general practitioner’s few Medicaid patients because she was already their patient. We weren’t as lucky with our dentist, whom my mother paid out of pocket for me to visit.
I had extreme dentist phobia after an experience at seven years old. I saw a Medicaid-accepting dentist for the first time at that age and soon after he was arrested for sexually inappropriate behavior with patients while they were under anesthesia (which I had never been, thankfully). My mother was already unhappy with the quality of care I received at his office, and after learning of the charges she was willing to pay out of pocket for someone reputable in our community.
Medicaid: ‘A Dollar Sign on Your Forehead’
Upon graduating high school with two dead parents and only a part-time job, I qualified for Medicaid as an adult. The adult version was much of the same kinds of experiences with inept providers, when I could find them at all.
A Medicaid dentist told me I had 14 cavities, a year after I had gotten a clean bill of health from another dentist, for whom I had paid out of pocket. When this dentist left the room, I asked his assistant how it was possible that 14 cavities developed in one year without me experiencing any pain.
His assistant’s response was: “This place is a factory, and you have Medicaid. That’s a dollar sign on your forehead.” This assistant had looked at my x-rays and done my cleaning minutes before, and assured me I didn’t appear to have a single cavity.
Stupidly, I returned to this dentist. It was the only one I could get an appointment with the next year when I was experiencing tooth pain. Doctors and dentists who take Medicaid insurance have waiting lists sometimes for months, and it is next to impossible to get appointments, even for emergencies. The dentist filled the cavity, and I had to return twice to have the filling filed down, because chewing was giving me a migraine.
A year later, I paid out of pocket for another dentist to repair the filling on a cavity that had once been relatively minor. She told me it was the worst filling she had ever seen, and had actually made my cavity worse. I was a month or two away from having to get a root canal, and paid for the new filling out of pocket. It was the best $300 I have ever spent, and because of my situation, I was able to barter for a lower rate in order to pay in cash.
Medicaid Is a Humanitarian Catastrophe
In 2013, Avik Roy wrote for Forbes about why Medicaid is a humanitarian catastrophe. While my story is merely anecdotal, Roy cites data showing outcomes for Medicaid patients are actually worse than that of the uninsured. Why may that be? The several times I negotiated at dentist offices for lower rates, I lied and said I had no insurance, because they would only negotiate with the uninsured. I’m not proud of lying, but I am glad that I still have a mouth full of teeth, which I would not had I stuck with only the dentists who would treat me.
Experiences like growing up on Medicaid turned me from a socialist to a conservative. Hearing phrases like “Medicaid reform” and about policies to limit their rolls was hardly cause for alarm, but instead for celebration. Instead of issuing battle cries every time the issue is raised, it would be nice for progressive journalists and legislatures to spend some time talking to the people who are actually subject to the system they revere.