let them eat medicaid

OK, so you’re in the eighth grade.  You play the saxophone.  You’ve been at it for a couple of years and it’s pretty fun.  Your parents no longer leave the room when you practice at home; maybe that means you’re getting better.

Your school band director thinks you’re getting better too.  She nominates you for a region-wide weekend music workshop, and a few weeks later you find out you’ve been accepted.  You’re really excited about it.  You will get to stay in a hotel with other kids from 5 states.  You will play the saxophone all weekend long and when you get home you’ll have new friends, better musical skills, and great memories.  You will eat way too much pizza.

Except you can’t go.

Your dad got laid off over a year ago, and your mom’s job doesn’t offer health insurance.  She makes enough money to afford rent and groceries, but not enough to pay for private insurance for you and your sister.  You don’t qualify for Medicaid.  You’re uninsured, at least until your dad finds a new job.

You get really mad at your mom when she tells you you can’t go.  She just starts crying.  You ask your band director if this means you need to practice harder.  She just shakes her head.

You stay home; you watch football with your dad; you keep practicing the saxophone.  Missing the workshop doesn’t ruin your life, but you do sometimes think about how much fun it would have been.


Unfortunately the place where I do my admin job has adopted a new policy for this year.  In the past we have required a medical release form for all youth activities, particularly those involving an overnight stay, and have requested a copy of the child’s insurance card as well.  There have been one or two unfortunate kids accepted for our programs each year who don’t have health insurance, and we have allowed them to attend anyway, with a signed consent form allowing us to take the child to the emergency room if necessary.  This year it has been decided that the university’s liability issues outweigh our mission to provide arts opportunities for kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and we will be turning away children who cannot provide proof of health insurance.

I am livid.

I brought this up with my director, telling her that I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of excluding a kid from our programs just because she’s one of the 7 million American children who don’t have health insurance.

She looked me straight in the face and told me that there’s no reason for a child not to have insurance.  She said, and I quote, “Anyone can get insurance.  And if they can’t afford it they can go on Medicaid.”  Therefore, in her mind, we wouldn’t really be excluding anyone.

I was flabbergasted.  I couldn’t even come up with a reply.  I mean, have you looked at the Medicaid eligibility requirements?  And have you priced out private insurance plans lately?  There is a huge gap between the Medicaid income requirements and what you would need to make to be able to afford private insurance.

I am so angry.  We are supposed to be a community school.  It is literally our mission to provide opportunities for everyone.  EVERYONE.  Not just people with health insurance.  I mean, I understand the university’s point of view, liability blah blah blah, but there has got to be a way to do the consent form so that these kids don’t have to stay home.

This is kicking people while they are down.


17 responses to “let them eat medicaid

  1. Chop the spring onions, chillies, garlic and coriander and mix with ginger with it all.Roll up and shred the lime leaves, as finely as you can. Watches for her

  2. This is clearly really sad for the kid, and I feel terrible for him/her. But at the same time I can see the school’s point of view. One lawsuit could cost hundreds of thousands and jeopardize programs for a lot of kids. What’s unfortunately is that we live in a litigious society in which people sue each other at the drop of a hat. Without this situation, it wouldn’t be an issue.

    Actually, high deductible insurance isn’t really that costly. Yes, it doesn’t give you $10 doctor visits, but you’re protected from financial disaster in case something really bad happens. I did a search online and a 35 year-old mother and 8 year-old kid can have a $10K annual deductible policy for $114 a month total for both. I don’t think that’s excessive. And just by having insurance, providers give you much cheaper self-pay rates. I have a similar insurance plan and pay about $60 per doctor visit.

    Again, this is awful for the child, and I wish parents would step up and get some sort of high-deductible coverage so these situations don’t happen. How many of them don’t have coverage but have cable tv and cell phones? Again, I know it’s not all parents, but many have money for other things but not for insurance.

  3. Whoever is that kid who could not go for the music workshop…I am very sorry. I know that children take these things hard.

    But the fact that the new school policy now makes it a point to exclude these students, makes me even more lumpy. Talent without insurance is no talent at all?

    Are there no financial help programs for these kind of students?

  4. These kids, who are clearly already at a disadvantage, need these programs so much! What’s the message here? “Sorry, but because you’re POOR, you can’t have the same opportunities as little Johnny here whose parents can actually afford health insurance.” While I understand the liability issue, there has to be a loophole somewhere. It’s not like an ER is going to turn a child away who is in need of medical care, even if they’re not insured.
    And, lets face it, the private insurance that’s “affordable” probably doesn’t even cover ER visits anyway.
    That whole thing just makes me angry.

  5. JS: I hear what you’re saying, and yes, for some families there are options for insurance. But I guess my larger point is that it’s a travesty in this country that health insurance has to permeate your life to the point of determining your kids’ after-school activities. These are two topics that should have nothing to do with each other. And regardless of the good or bad choices the parents are making with their money, it is never, ever the child’s fault when something like this happens, and yet it’s kids who are going to get hurt.

    WiseGuy: We actually do have financial assistance for kids to attend our programs, but we can’t buy them health insurance.

    Jackie: Yes, I think that’s exactly the message we are sending. It makes me really, really angry. I have felt for years that what we need is a single-payer health care system so that we can take health insurance out of all kinds of equations that it doesn’t need to be in. Kids without health insurance are likely to be disadvantaged in other ways as well, and if we deny them additional opportunities based on their health care status then we really are widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

  6. Oh, what an unbelievable situation! I missed out on things because we were too poor to afford them, or because I had to take care of my little brother and couldn’t do after school stuff. And I had it really good compared to so many people. There’s just such a huge gulf between people like your director who have no concept of the reality of many people’s lives, and people like you. I’m sorry you have to witness this injustice.

  7. I am livid!!! Perhaps you just need to wait until that one case comes along, and make it an example for your director. And perhaps you could also find a way to set up a financial aid fund for temporary insurance (like travel insurance) to cover these kids on the trip.

  8. It makes me insane and I want to work everyone into a froth for midterm elections. If only it would actually have an impact on little lives now.

    It is likely doubly painful for you as an artist and as a mother.

  9. The country where I live is neighbour to yours. We share many things, like the continent for example. But it is so, so strange and unthinkable and unreasonable for me to think that your country still operates without universal health care. And the resistance that came up when Obama proposed it. You were all in mortal danger of becoming subsumed by the communists.

    With universal health care, everyone goes on the outing. Our health care isn’t perfect, but it’s accessible to all. Something to be said about that. I hope your country moves more and more towards it.

    The story about your young self being denied this great opportunity and the kids you teach also being denied broke my heart. It’s so unfair!

  10. Bunny: I didn’t mean to imply any kind of Saint-g-and-l, Evil-director thing. I mean, it’s not like I’ve been able to come up with a solution. I am so cowed in this job. I am considering going to the university’s legal office to see if a sufficiently protective release form could be drafted for these kids, but my director is really touchy about me going over her head and so I haven’t done anything yet.

    Lesley: That’s a great idea and definitely worth looking into. I could even do the research on it without pissing anyone off.

    Roccie: You said it!

    Augusta: Yes, exactly. The people who are so afraid of “rationing” of health care haven’t grasped yet that we are ALREADY rationing health care (and the other life experiences that people are being denied, like this program). We’re just rationing it based on ability to pay as opposed to by some other criteria. And I’m sorry if I misled anyone; the story at the top of the post wasn’t about me. It was a straw-musician, created out of whole cloth but with a firm conviction that this WILL happen this year.

  11. It’s ridiculous from many aspects, but mostly really sad that an educator isn’t doing what’s best for the kids – lucky they have you! Lesley’s idea is great – temporary insurance can be pretty affordable. Maybe an online fund, also? Keep us posted!

  12. Oh Ginger and Lime, it really does seem so unfair! I wish I understood the US health system better (or maybe I don’t!) as then i’m sure i’d have more to say on the matter. But my heart goes out to the children who fit the description in the first part of your post. It’s more than a bit heartbreaking.

  13. It makes me livid. So many things about our healthcare system are just simply and undeniably WRONG. You are right to be livid.

    Another idea that I’d like to suggest is that you contact your local state and federal elected representatives. They need to hear these stories, and know how THEIR choices affect real people.

    Did you know that there are places in the US where women can NOT even purchase health insurance that includes maternity coverage – and in almost all cases they can be charged significantly more (like 5x) in order to purchase health insurance that includes maternity coverage. Its just wrong.

    Good luck – Foxy

  14. I love how passionate you are about this.

  15. Pingback: let them eat medicaid, update | ginger and lime

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