If you watch cable news, you’ve probably seen story after story about Americans losing their insurance plans thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare.” Despite the passage of the ACA into law in 2010, and despite the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 to uphold the legislation, and even despite the failed attempt to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip—Right-Wing Republicans in Congress, governors’ mansions, and state legislatures are continuing their push to blame Obamacare for Americans losing health coverage.
But what about the Americans who didn’t have any health insurance to begin with, and are now being denied acceptance into Medicaid by those same conservatives? There are five million of them, people who have jobs but aren’t paid enough for private health insurance, being left out in the cold by the Right-Wing. On cable news, you don’t hear about people like Sharone Belt in North Carolina, who is being denied healthcare thanks to conservatives.
These are the stories we cannot in good conscience ignore.
Sharone Belt is 47 years old and lives in Hickory, North Carolina. She’s a deacon candidate at her church, collects donations for the local homeless shelter, and volunteers for the Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation. Sharone took some college classes when she was younger, but even with help from grants and student loans, she was priced out of her education pretty quickly. She now works as a balloon twister at children’s parties and restaurants to make ends meet.
“It’s not a job that pays very well,” says Sharone, “but I love working with the kids.”
Picking up as many gigs as she can, Sharone has managed to get herself just above the poverty line, making a little too much to qualify for Medicaid under the old system, but far too little to be able to afford private health insurance. Sharone also suffers from diabetes, which has led to diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) because she can’t afford the medications she needs. It’s a particularly difficult thing for her to work with, given her profession.
“I tried to use the free clinic in town,” says Sharone, “it took me six months just to get an appointment, and when I did get in, the medications I need are so expensive the free clinic wasn’t even able to get them for me.”
When the Affordable Care Act was passed, Sharone thought maybe there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. “I was so excited, I thought maybe I could finally get my health back on track.”
Last week, Sharone found out that North Carolina is one of the 25 states refusing to expand Medicaid to cover people, like her, who are just above the poverty line. Back in March, conservative Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation that blocked Medicaid expansion for 500,000 North Carolinians, like Sharone, who don’t make enough money to purchase healthcare on their own, but don’t qualify for Medicaid, either. According to a report from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would have not only provided coverage for 500,000 low-income Tar Heelers but would also have added tens of thousands of jobs thanks to the injection of federal dollars. McCrory’s decision also caused a hospital in Belhaven to close, after it couldn’t keep up with unpaid medical bills from low-income patients.
Conservatives argue participation in Medicaid expansion, allowing those who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit access to the healthcare program, would bankrupt states. The claim has been repeated in media outlets around the country, despite policy experts debunking it as a conservative myth being perpetuated by ideological beliefs rather than facts. The ACA actually covers the cost of expanding Medicaid 100 percent for the first three years states participate, after which federal dollars slightly curtail over the next decade. Even at the lowest point of federal funding, states would only be liable for 10 percent of the cost of the expansion in their state, but still reap 100 percent of the benefits of not having a populace burdened by the under-insured.
To add to Sharone’s woes, she was also just notified that Congress has made significant cuts to Food Stamps, which is going to make it even harder for her to put food on the table—another instance of the Right-Wing’s assault on the poor under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility” and “small government.”
“I’m just not sure what I’m going to do next,” says Sharone. Even with all the hardship she’s facing, still manages to keep a sense of humor and giggle as she asks, “Think there’s any chance Congress will pass a single-payer system soon?”
Sharone’s story is only one of 5 million from across the country. From the 500,000 people being denied coverage in North Carolina, to the 133,000 in Utah, to the 40,000 in Alaska, the stories of the working poor being denied healthcare are everywhere. Why don’t we hear about them on the nightly news?