An open letter to our U.S. senators on Medicaid
As Congress considers proposals to cut Medicaid, which insures 20 percent of Americans, I call on our elected officials to think not in numbers and abstractions, but rather grounded in the reality of the individual lives you will alter with the vote you cast in Washington.
Below, I share my story, and I implore you to listen to others as well.
My parents never expected to rely on Medicaid for their children. They were employed full-time in legal careers with two healthy, young children thriving in school, youth sports, and Cub Scouts. Then, on March 17,1999, my older brother experienced a seizure in our kitchen while preparing breakfast. He was rushed to the hospital and later transferred to a specialty hospital across the country for months of advanced care. My brother, now 26, has permanent brain damage as a result of this illness, for which a cause was never pinpointed.
Not only were there immense immediate costs with surgeries, hospital stays, and rehabilitation, but my brother will require daily supervision and care for the rest of his life as he is unable to live or work on his own. My brother’s access to Medicaid makes it possible for my parents to continue to work full-time and has allowed me to pursue a college education and begin my career away from home.
Medicaid is not a program for some “other” group of Americans, it was established for all of us should we find ourselves in need. What happened to my brother could have happened to me, to you, to your children, or to anyone. It is not hyperbolic to say that each of us is one unpredictable moment away from relying on Medicaid. I witnessed exactly that with my brother. Medicaid recipients are siblings, parents, friends, and neighbors. If those descriptors do not raise awareness in your conscience, perhaps I should refer to them as constituents and voters.
My brother, a registered voter, knows how the proposed cuts to Medicaid may affect his daily life. He told us, “Medicaid is important to me because it lets me go out into the community and not be stuck in the house all day, and I like being out in the community.” He is referring to the home- and community-based services he receives through Medicaid. Cuts to Medicaid funding threaten the number of hours he is able to spend in the community developing job and life skills. I will not allow my brother to be relegated to a life segregated from the local community simply because politicians and lobbyists in Washington feel as though the quality of his daily life is worth less than tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.
My brother’s story represents only one of the millions of stories that illuminate the importance of protecting Medicaid funding. Although my brother is the only Medicaid recipient in our family, the lives of my parents and my life have also been shaped by Medicaid. This is a program that supports and strengthens us all, directly or indirectly, as individuals and communities, and I ask that you find it within yourselves to exercise thoughtfulness, empathy, and reason as you cast your vote on this issue of utmost consequence.
Susan Fleurant is a 2012 Chugiak High School graduate, a 2016 graduate of Colby College, and a former U.S. Senate staffer.