Legislators hear stories of those impacted by Medicaid
With Gov. Gary Herbert and the State Legislature mulling the options for an expansion of Medicaid in Utah, several individuals who would be directly impacted by the expansion of Medicaid gave their testimonials in an emotional session at the State Capitol on Thursday.
Avery Pizzuto, 14, of Lehi, who has Type I diabetes, said she receives medical care through Medicaid and is grateful for her coverage, but is worried about her mother, Joy, who cannot say the same thing.
In 2008, Joy went to the hospital after experiencing severe back pain and having lost her job. She discovered she had two dislocated discs and, during surgery, doctors found she also had cervical cancer.
"If she had not lost her job, she would not have gotten Medicaid, and we would not have found out she had cancer," Pizzuto said. "And if she had not found out she had cancer, she might not be alive today."
The event was organized by Sen. Brian Shiozawa (R-Cottonwood Heights) and Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake) to hear stories of individuals who would be severely affected if no action is taken on Medicaid expansion in Utah.
Dabakis has already been one of many Democrats in both the House and Senate to call for the full expansion of Medicaid to cover all of the 111,000 Utahns under the program.
There are a few bills in the House and Senate that would seek to establish Utah’s own version of the Medicaid expansion. One is Shiozawa’s SB251, which would give subsidies for insurance for those making less than the federal poverty line of $11,670.
Another, HB401, sponsored by Rep. James Dunnigan (R-Taylorsville), would create the "Access Utah Program," a two-year pilot program which would also give subsidies for those under 100 percent of the poverty level. The House Democratic Caucus came out in opposition to the bill on Friday, saying it does not cover those in the "coverage gap" of between 100 and 133 percent of the poverty level.
Gov. Herbert has responded to the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by asking the federal government to grant to Utah the $524 million it would receive through Medicaid to administer a state-run three-year pilot program which would provide assistance to pay for private insurance through a federal waiver for Utahns who make less than $15,500 a year.
Those testifying Thursday did not speak out in favor of one specific plan, but merely emphasized how crucial the Medicaid expansion would be to them.
Paul Gibbs was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease in 2008 but, with the help of fundraising from the Utah theatre community of which he is a part, was able to get $10,000. The problem was, his kidney transplant was $79,000. Luckily, he was able to qualify for Medicaid and now has a working kidney.
"A lot of people in this room don’t have what I had. They don’t have people raising the type of money that was raised for me, and they don’t have Medicaid," Gibbs said. "They deserve everything that I got. Everybody deserves the right to stay alive."
The Summit County Council in March 2013 passed a resolution supporting the Medicaid expansion. According to the resolution, roughly 16 percent of adults in the county are uninsured, equaling around 3,859 individuals.
Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City) said he wished more of his colleagues were there to hear these people’s stories.
"It just seems so ridiculous to have money that we’ve already paid to the federal government — it’s our money — and walk away from it," King said. "What good does it accomplish, rather than make a political statement, and what damage does it cause?"
Charlotte Lawrence, a single mother of four was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year, works two full-time jobs, going three days a week without sleep. She makes $400 too much to qualify for Medicaid and has $30,000 in medical debt and has had to forego radiation treatment because she cannot afford it.
"I want my lawmakers to know that the decisions they make impact my life," Lawrence said, fighting back tears.
Dabakis was moved by the testimonies and urged for dealing with individuals like Lawrence now.
"I hear people say, ‘What will happen in three years?’ Let’s just deal with Charlotte, let’s just take the money for three years, and then we’ll deal with it," Dabakis said.
Pizzuto, who also spoke at Gov. Herbert’s "Healthy Utah Plan" event at the Fourth Street Clinic in Salt Lake City, urged action on Medicaid expansion for the sake of her mother.
"She’s the only person I have in my life," Pizzuto said. "Please, let’s get this rolling, so she can have insurance."
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.