Tears came to my eyes and my voice cracked as I told my mom over the phone today,
“It was only recently that we found a way to stop worrying that Lucia would die and decided to love her so fiercely and just live life together. And now we’re afraid everyday that she might lose the benefits that make her life so wonderful.”
You’ve seen me write about it on this blog countless times–the life so grand that we couldn’t have possibly imagined, a life for which we are never sorry but so deeply grateful. Our daughter, Lucia, who was born with a terminal, genetic disease of the brain, is the greatest gift we’ve ever been given.
But we don’t take that gift for granted.
How can we when our private employer insurance granted through one of the most prestigious universities in the world denies all the things she needs from in-home nursing services to wheelchairs to surgeries and nearly everything in between?
We’ve learned the hard way that private insurance companies will never cover Lucia’s needs because they’re deemed too expensive, too rare, too disadvantageous. So when Lucia was 6 months old, I began filling out paperwork for New Jersey state Medicaid, a process so complicated I could hardly navigate it, even though I have a Ph.D., a Masters, and a Bachelor’s degree. For 6 months we paid out of pocket for all the things that our employer plan wouldn’t cover and we racked up nearly $10,000 in medical expenses.
But things started to shift when we got the first person from the state’s Early Intervention program into our home; she took one look at Lucia shrieking in pain and me helpless to comfort my child and told me, “You shouldn’t have to do this alone. We can help.” And I will never forget those words. 6 months later when Lucia got onto the NJ State Medicaid MLTSS program (Managed Long Term Special Services for kids with outstanding medical needs and disabilities), everything changed. Suddenly, our secondary insurance through the state stepped in to pick up the tab on the myriad of services our private insurance denied. Those giant insurance bills and many of our worries about how we could pay and support her future melted away.
We felt that we had found an incredible safety net in the state of New Jersey. We bought a house here in a school district well-known for going above and beyond for supporting kids with special needs. And Lucia has been taking the bus to a wonderful special needs school; the social worker in our district has been undyingly supportive of our requests. The school district is willing to foot the bill for those bus trips, special equipment, and extra support in the classroom. And Lucia comes home from school everyday babbling (literally babbling) and smiling and laughing because she couldn’t be happier.
But we can’t take that for granted.
A proposal passed by two House committees last week looks to slowly trim over $880 million dollars from Obama’s Medicaid expansion and also cap annual federal payments to state Medicaid programs. I realize that my daughter is on the traditional Medicaid program and not the expansion under the NJ MLTSS, but here’s what I also know to be true as a parent in state with incredible benefits. First, those benefits are rare–most states have long waiting lists for such special programming (if they even have it) and so those who benefit may not even be those most in need. Many of these families are covered, however, under the Medicaid expansion. Furthermore, only 50% of the funding for the MLTSS program comes from the state of NJ, the other 50% comes from the federal government. That means cuts would certainly affect NJ’s ability to provide the programs it has in the past. And finally, in striving to be an advocate for my child, I’m also not taking for granted what’s been given only to us. ALL children should have the rights to attend free public school that meets their needs, receive services that they need to not only live but thrive, and we are not doing enough in this country for the least of these–and trust me, that’s who’s on Medicaid–kids, people with disabilities, seniors, and people struggling with addiction.
But I’m begging you to not take any of this (and this is really what makes America great) for granted either. Indeed, I am so thankful to live in a country where I can speak out and where my voice can make a difference. I have spoken to my member of Congress; he’s a Republican, but he’s willing to fight to protect both the NJ MLTSS program and the Medicaid expansion because he knows how much they matter to families like ours. And I’m thrilled. I have hope, but I am also stressed. Living and loving a child whose circumstances are so uncertain has never been easy. And doing so now when you feel like you have to fight for the very programs that have made such a difference is something I barely have time for in between all those medical appointments and insurance calls and nursing schedules and therapy visits.
But, you guessed it–I don’t take any of that for granted either.
Please call your representatives and your senators today and tell them you want to protect both the Medicaid expansion and traditional Medicaid for all families who find themselves in need. For so many families whose lives are already marked by hospitalizations and seizures and circumstances of life and death, let’s not make them marred and complicated and undermined and burdened by insurmountable insurance bills, poor or little access to healthcare, schools that may or may not accept their children, and policies that do not value the lives of their children with special needs. Tell them it pains you to live in a world where we can’t take for granted that those most in need won’t go without. Tell them how thankful you are for programs like Medicaid and all that they do. As Heather Kirn Lanier said so eloquently, “my kid’s doing awesome, and it’s not just because of me.”
It truly takes a village to raise any child. Will you be part of our village? It’s a motley crew for sure, but boy, is it full of unexpected, underserved gifts.