PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — I Want To Be The Face Of Medicaid Expansion!

I was on Medicaid.

There, I admitted it.  It’s not an easy thing to do for me.

Even when I was on it, and I would go to the doctor, I handed the card to the person at the admittance desk with a furtive glance around to see if anyone saw me. And every time, I wanted to blurt out my story, to “explain” why I was in this situation, why I needed this help. I felt like they looked at me differently when I handed them my Medicaid card, that they looked down on me.

I also felt like I had to slink in to my local pharmacy, when I picked up medication, afraid that others would see that I was on Medicaid. Now to be fair, no one there ever made me to feel that way — but I was just so ashamed.

Ashamed.  That’s how I felt when I was on Medicaid.  Ashamed.

I was, after all, raised in an upper-middle-class home, and I had always maintained at least the façade of a middle-class existence. I was a pastor, with a doctorate no less. Very solidly middle class.

Even as I raised my two sons alone, rarely receiving child support from the time the youngest entered school, I tread water as best I could to keep my head above the surface.

Because I love to travel and have the skills of a travel ninja and could do it cheaply, most people were unaware that we struggled at times. It was most obvious in the 2001 Dodge Caravan with multiple dents that I was still driving in 2013 and the thread-bare state of our mostly used furniture.

As a person who started tithing at age 12, I had learned at a young age the importance of generosity and money management and both served me very well.

But when I unexpectedly found myself without a job, and subsequently with a part-time job with no benefits, I was without health care for the first time in my life. And never had I needed it more.

My sons and I were all dealing with the stress that accompanied both the realities of a jobless sole provider as well as the decline and eventual death of their father from chronic alcoholism. Needless to say, access to mental and physical health care was vital to our survival.

Thankfully, we had Obamacare. And we were able to go on Medicaid for a time. A time when we desperately needed it.

It was a brief blip in our life, but I believe that having that safety net made all of the difference.

Today, our lives are radically different. Both of my sons now attend Harvard University — and I am convinced that would not have happened had we not had access to mental health care when our lives felt precarious and unsure, as the walls of the world were closing around us.

I have embraced life as an empty nester, continuing my love for travel as well as using my energy for activism and blogging, even as I manage a call as a pastor at a wonderful congregation in downtown Fargo. Thanks to the Medicaid expansion program, I stayed mentally and physically healthy at a time when the pieces could have just as easily come unglued, both for me and my family.

Oh, and I drive a 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid, too. Once again, I am living a solidly middle class life.

But I feel compelled to speak out about my time on Medicaid as our nation is engaged in a debate about health care for two reasons.

First, it is for compassion for those who receive it. There is no reason I should have shame that I was on it. That is what a country whose values extend beyond self-preservation does. It provides for those who are having hard times because you never know when you are going to be the one in need.

We are not, as John Dunne so aptly put, an island, isolated from each other. We are “part of the main,” as citizens of a country; we are part of a community and caring for each other is part of the deal.

The Preamble to the Constitution beautifully articulates this mutuality, reminding us our country is here to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Health care most assuredly promotes the general welfare, insures domestic tranquility, and secures blessings both for those who give and receive it. And when I was without, having Medicaid did just that for me.

Yet, it is all too common to hear people speak negatively about those who receive it or to make assumptions about them. I know that all too well because I heard those comments when I was on the receiving end, and it made me want to slip further into anonymity for fear others would think less of me.

We don’t know people’s stories, we don’t know their journey — what chronic illness or pain, even that which may not be visible, with which they struggle and we don’t know the demons that lurk in their past that may have led them down roads less travelled.

So I want to proclaim boldly and loudly — I am the face of Medicaid Expansion. And my two sons at Harvard are as well. And so are others you may not know. Its impact goes deeper than you may think.

And you may never know when you will be the one who needs it. I can assure you, it was a possibility that never even crossed my mind. So have compassion because you don’t know when you will need that same grace extended to you.

My second reason for speaking out is because it truly does make a nation stronger when we extend care to the most vulnerable. It has been heartening to read the statements by Republican governors, testifying to the profound and powerful impact Medicaid expansion has had. It gives me hope that there may be bipartisan answers, which is the only way to move forward.

Are their limitations with ACA? Of course. Everyone is aware of that, I think. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater won’t help, if by help, you mean, care for the most vulnerable, provide affordable access to quality care and build on the most basic values upon which this nation is founded.

It is also absolutely vital that mental health care and addiction treatment be included in any health care plan.  Refusal to care for someone’s mind and spirit, along with their body, means that that inevitably, they will need more help medically, because all of those aspects are intertwined.

I know, personally, my family would have deteriorated had we not had access to the depth and breadth of care available by health professionals, including mental health care because sometimes the burdens of life become too great to carry alone — and when you are all struggling, it is hard to hold each other up.

As a result of being on Medicaid Expansion, we were able to access what we needed to become stronger and healthier — and rebuild our lives when they just as easily could have fallen apart.

Donne ends “No Man Is An Island” by writing

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

My hope and prayer is that rather than hearing the bells ring out at the funerals of those who will die because of a lack of quality health care, they can ring out for joy that we are a nation that cares, embracing the values that the Constitution established and truly securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — I Want To Be The Face Of Medicaid Expansion!”

  • Helen Murphy March 22, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    Great article. But by the grace of God go I. We all need help of some kind sooner or later.


Leave a Reply