I attended the Medicaid Expansion Advocacy Extravaganza in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday along with the rest of the We Care People and members of the public who wanted to show their support for Medicaid expansion.
On the way there, I gazed out the bus window, taking in the scenery. I looked at all the houses in rows, wondering what the people were like who lived there…wondering what kind of day they were having…wondering if they were struggling…wondering if they would benefit from the proposed Medicaid expansion.
We arrived at the Riffe Center in plenty of time, and I began to look for people to talk to about Medicaid expansion. I began with Chelsea Verhoff, of Kalida, Ohio, who said, “It’s good for Ohio. I think Medicaid expansion is important for Ohio so that those who are struggling and working full-time but making too much money to be on Medicaid should receive health insurance.”
I then spoke with William Casteel, of Cleveland, and asked why Medicaid expansion was important to him. Casteel said, “So you can go to the doctor. I’m in pain now and I can’t go to the doctor.” Casteel continued by saying, “We need funding for the methadone program. We represent them. It’s for recovering addicts and Medicaid doesn’t really cover it.” I then met Buster Fields, also of Cleveland, who, like Casteel, is in recovery. Fields stated, “It’s important because – not only for me, but for the people behind me. We gotta start here.” Fields said he sought treatment for his addiction when he “was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I told him I could relate.
Around this time, the speakers scheduled for the day were beginning to start. Each speaker moved me in some way. Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly remarked that “the governor is the quarterback of this team.” I liked that. And what I liked most about this event was the lack of ambiguous political rhetoric; I liked the “realness” of it all. To hear from real people who are really being affected by the decisions being made by our elected officials is what I found most moving. The Sheriff went on to describe the number of overdoses and suicides in Clark County in the last year. There were 39 overdoses and suicide rose by 29%. “Prevention and treatment work,” said Sheriff Kelly. “It saves tax dollars, it saves families, it saves lives.”
We heard from a doctor, Krisanna Deppen, who described her plight with patients; she focuses on caring for pregnant women with opioid dependence and their newborns. “Patients with substance abuse issues are frequently overlooked,” she said.
Single mother Pam Harris spoke about her struggle to pay for the medications prescribed for her mental illness along with attempting to make ends meet. “Someday I hope to not have to choose between paying for my medications and paying my electric bill,” she concluded.
The most moving for me was when Governor Kasich took the mic and spoke his thoughts on Medicaid expansion. He talked about the courage it takes to make the right decision. He provided a few scenarios, one of which was a college student who’s just come home and is hiding in her room…having the onset of a bipolar episode. “Do you know what that’s like?” he asked. I had to blink back tears as I thought of my parents dealing with me and my bipolar episodes. Well, now they’re Andy’s to deal with. Still…the words spoken at this event did get to me.
Kasich talked about how we are all equal in God’s eyes, from the people who live under the bridges to the people who live in the most expensive mansion. I looked out the window, trying to imagine living under a bridge. And surviving. There are so many people out there who would benefit from this Medicaid expansion, not just William and Buster, but so many nameless, faceless individuals I will never know. They need us.
On the bus ride home, I replayed the events of the day in my head. I was surprised that I was so moved by so many of the speakers. (I have to add here how wonderful Phil Atkins is and how great he was as a host on our excursion…because I was thinking about that, too. I’m so blessed to work with the people I work with.)
But also on the ride home, I was thinking about some of the people I met, all of the people I saw, the speakers we heard…looking out the window, I saw some graffiti splashed across the side of a bridge. I looked closer and spotted a chair under the bridge. I hugged my arms around myself, thinking of the words spoken minutes earlier…no matter what socioeconomic status, we have to help people who want to help themselves.
There should be no question.
It’s the right thing to do.