Medicaid Helped Me Discover the Joy of Reading

by | Jul 28, 2023 | Choosing Health Equity

Standing to the side of the reception desk I heard the ringing of phones and the buzzing of patients at the vision clinic. From all over Albuquerque, people were coming for their regular check-ups or to browse for a new pair of glasses. At six-years old I was about to make one of the biggest decisions of my life – other than whether to ask to go to the toy store after this – what would be my first pair of glasses?

I spun the small vertical shelf, having looked over each pair meticulously, anguishing the idea that one of these would be coming home with me. After asking my dad if I had to get one on this shelf he reluctantly agreed to let me browse the rest of the clinic–I found the best bright blue circle rimmed frames from one of the shelves with a name I could barely sound out. The sales clerk assigned to us mentioned to my father that the pair I had picked out were $200 without insurance. I didn’t know exactly what those words meant, but hearing $200 and seeing the look on my father’s face told me I could not get this pair.

After putting the frames back exactly where I found them I was led once more to the small spinning vertical shelf, “these are the frames covered by Medicaid” she said to my dad. He let me know I could choose any pair on this shelf. I chose the one I had been thinking about, metal oval frames and jet-black, even though I knew it would lead other kids at school to call me Harry Potter. I left the vision clinic with a new pair of glasses, and while reluctant at first, I would be forever grateful for my first pair of glasses.

Medicaid Was Vital for Kids Like Me

Medicaid helped me discover that I loved reading because I no longer got a headache from straining my eyes. New Mexico’s generous Medicaid program serves thousands of families like mine in innumerable ways. With 4 in 7 children covered by Medicaid in New Mexico, the expansive program served me through all stages of my childhood, adolescence and college years. Medicaid covers a variety of oral health and dental services in New Mexico ensuring I could get my braces in middle school and get a root canal in college. The Early and Periodic Screen, Diagnostic and Treatment benefit directly impacted and improved my life and ensures that millions of children receive preventive dental, mental health, developmental, and specialty services. I remained on Medicaid as a college student which lifted a heavy financial and mental burden from my shoulders.

Medicaid helped empower me to focus on my education, no matter what happened to my health–and emergencies, infections, and injuries did happen, but I was no worse off because I had accessible, affordable, and comprehensive health coverage. In New Mexico, 80 percent of non-elderly Medicaid enrollees are people of color including a majority that identify as Hispanic. Medicaid is an essential source of healthcare for communities of color, and data show that Medicaid is making a key difference in reducing racial disparities in health coverage.

Medicaid Is Effective and Essential

My story of growing up on Medicaid is just one of the millions of stories about lives improved by this vital program. For nearly 60 years as Medicaid has expanded it has also improved the health and well-being of individuals and communities. In New Mexico, 54 percent (41 percent for the entire United States) of births were covered by Medicaid, and birthing people receive 12-months of postpartum coverage. Data from 2020 show that the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion led to 19,000 fewer premature deaths, increased economic mobility and financial security, and improved hospital budgets by reducing uncompensated care. If the 10 holdout states adopted Medicaid expansion the country could see even further improved health and economic security. Furthermore, Medicaid ensures basic healthcare for millions of women and families, in particular women of color who are more likely to have health insurance coverage through Medicaid when compared to white women.

However, Medicaid has weathered and survived attacks on the program. Most recently, Medicaid work requirements were defeated during the debt ceiling negotiations. When Medicaid work requirements were implemented for a short period of time in Arkansas it led to more than 18,000 people losing their health insurance, and employment was decisively not increased–demonstrating that Medicaid work requirements not only fail at their stated goal, but rip health coverage away from those who need it.

Every kid should be able to find joy in reading. Medicaid in New Mexico ensured I could be one of those kids. However, not every kid with a love for reading can get their glasses, not even every adult. State Medicaid programs vary widely when it comes to vision coverage, creating a labyrinth to navigate for a simple pair of glasses. Medicaid in New Mexico is incredibly generous especially compared to the neighboring state of Texas where Medicaid coverage redetermination has recently led to half a million Texans losing Medicaid coverage.

However, other states are implementing innovative strategies using Medicaid to address social drivers of health such as housing and food needs, care coordination, and releasing annual Medicaid health equity reports with data stratified by race and ethnicity. On the 58th anniversary of the Medicaid program it is time to recommit to protecting the program from harmful proposals like work requirements, expanding Medicaid to advance racial and health justice, and ensuring the program lasts for many more decades to come.