Health care fail safe could end

We celebrate 53 years of Medicaid this week, the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson who bullied doctors, hospitals and a recalcitrant Congress into providing a life-saving mechanism for millions of low-income Americans. Today, our Republican Congress and many Republican governors continue to plot its demise, arguing that we can’t afford to provide coverage for struggling families. When one asks if we should allow people to suffer or die from lack of health care, they point to hospital emergency rooms as the fail-safe measure, ignoring the arguments of hospitals and health advocates that it’s the most expensive and inappropriate place to care for the uninsured.

Republicans often characterize those on Medicaid as lazy scofflaws, people who just don’t want to get a job, preferring that stereotype over the reality experienced by individuals like Reno’s dynamic Emily Reese. Her story is widely known in our community due to her persistent efforts to publicize how Medicaid has helped prolong her life as she has battled colon cancer for the last eight years. The cancer was deemed terminal two years ago, and Emily’s fight intensified, but she’s never wavered from her determination to protect Medicaid, for herself and others.

While Medicaid has enabled her to stay alive by paying for much of the life-sustaining treatment she needs, Emily still struggles. She’s been unable to return to work as a teacher since her terminal diagnosis. Her out-of-pocket prescriptions run about $800 a month and she’s had to depend on a vast network of friends and family to help her pay rent and allow her to enjoy her remaining time with three wonderful teenagers—champion debaters and kind, generous kids any mom would proudly claim.

Emily aggressively campaigns for Medicaid by creating videos, writing opinion columns, and exposing her most private feelings and fragile medical condition to the world through social media, sometimes attracting internet trolls and thoughtless comments. She has deeply touched the lives of many people she’ll never meet in person.

Emily traveled to Washington D.C. last winter and scored a face-to-face meeting with Senator Heller, pleading with him to protect Medicaid for the millions of Americans who desperately need it. Heller was not very receptive:

“At the end of it all, I learned from his own lips that his intentions are that Medicaid is on the chopping block; in his mind, Medicaid is an ‘entitlement.’ It was officially insulting to this cancer fighter on Medicaid. I am more resolved than ever to keep fighting for myself and others. … Everyone can fall on hard times in the blink of an eye.”

Recently the frustration over the challenges of living with a terminal cancer resulted in a bad bout of depression and Emily withdrew from her one-woman campaign for a few weeks. Re-entering the social media world, she wrote, “Living with one foot in death and one foot in life all of the time, with threats of death then sudden good news for the last few years, has finally taken its toll. I didn’t quite realize how much I was shouldering and pushing aside.”

There is a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for Emily as she copes with the stress and financial difficulties associated with her medical condition, little income and the constant worry about those who would strangle her lifeline with unmanageable work requirements and other barriers.

She perseveres, writing eloquently of her life today: “I have learned in the last eight years to balance things that matter here with things that matter in eternity. Having extra time to thrive with terminal cancer can change your life and those around you.”

Don’t let Heller portray Medicaid recipients as the nameless, faceless, shiftless masses. This is about Emily.Ω