BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — One-third of West Virginians rely on Medicaid in order to access potentially life-saving health care.
West Virginians Together for Medicaid held a press conference Thursday at Community Care of Bridgeport, unveiling a collection of stories from West Virginians whose lives have been affected by Medicaid.
“It’s a continual project, and it’s one of those things where we get really excited,” said Lara Foster, the story collection coordinator of the campaign. “I did a little stint in some grassroots organizing, so this is really close to the same thing of empowering West Virginians to share their stories about what it’s like to rely on Medicaid for their health care.”
The project highlights the stories of 30 West Virginians from all throughout the state, with personal stories of how Medicaid saved their lives or the lives of their family members.
“There have been a few stories that have been extremely life-saving,” Foster said. “Without this treatment, people have literally said, ‘Foster, I would not have paid for that treatment. I wouldn’t want those bills in my name.’ That’s a direct quote from one of my storytellers who would not have sought treatment for their health condition.”
For many, sharing those stories was emotional — a day filled with both smiles and tears as they recounted some difficult moments of their lives.
“This is live or death. It’s health care, and it’s wellness,” Foster said. “Sharing these stories is one aspect. We’ve had some stories where people have chosen to remain anonymous because there’s still a stigma, or they’re afraid to let their employer know. They work a low-wage job and don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance so they still qualify for Medicaid, but that’s what it’s there for.”
By sharing these stories, Foster is hopeful that it will help to break down the stigmas associated with Medicaid and those who receive its services.
“Even if it’s anonymously, these stories sound so similar to our friends, to our family, to our neighbors, that this is showing we’re in this together. This is our battle. This is our health and wellness. We can live because of programs like Medicaid or CHIP or SNAP,” she said.
One major misconception that the project looks to correct is that its recipients are “lazy” and “don’t want to work.”
“We know that 63 percent of people who are on Medicaid are working. But we have some lower wage jobs and those jobs don’t provide health insurance, so Medicaid is the only health insurance program that they can utilize,” said Lisa Diehl, the north central coordinator for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
Some major steps have already been made.
During the most recent legislative session, advocates fought to expand Medicaid for pregnant mothers.
“So we expanded Medicaid for pregnant mothers up to a certain percentage of the poverty level,” Foster said. “You know what that means? That means pregnant moms who don’t have health insurance can now be protected through Medicaid. So we’re decreasing the gap of people who do not have health insurance, who are not seeking treatment, and when you protect pregnant moms, you protect the future of West Virginia. Now those babies are insured, the mothers are cared for, and we get to prosper as a state.”
But after hearing so many stories where Medicaid helped to save a life, Foster said it’s scary when legislators talk of cutting funding for such programs.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking to hear about potential cuts in Medicaid,” she said. “This is why these things are so important so we can say, ‘Hey legislator, this person lives your district. You respect this individual whose life was saved because of the services that are on the chopping block, or might be on the chopping block.’
“That’s why we want to empower West Virginians all across the state to rise up, share their stories, and say, ‘This social safety net program is vital to us,'” Foster added. “For one-third of West Virginians to rely on this social safety net program, it’s time to start protecting it and continuing to do good work in West Virginia.”