By Eunice Haigler, Virginia Organizing Fredericksburg Leader
WHEN I WAS 17, I started to suffer from migraine headaches. Through the years, not being able to afford insurance, I dealt with the pain and did what I could to survive. I have been a hard worker in the human services field all of my life. I kept working and caring for my children, and then grandchildren.
Over the years, the headaches increased in number and severity. In 2010, I was diagnosed with a large tumor: The headaches were more than just migraines. The tumor was too big for surgery, but a medication was prescribed that would shrink the tumor to operational size.
Unfortunately, it cost about $3,000 per month. At the time, I made just more than the limit to qualify for Medicaid; I could not stop working with grandchildren in the home, so I chose to put food on the table.
Most parents understand: You do whatever you must to provide for your family, no matter how it affects you.
As the pain became more intense, I would go to the emergency room, be diagnosed with migraines, be given medication and then be sent home. On one of these visits, I was sent home only to have to go back the next evening. This time, I was diagnosed with a stroke.
I stayed in the hospital to recover and was sent home only to return that same evening with one of the worst headaches I had ever endured. Whenever I went to the hospital they gave me intravenous medication and then send me home with a prescription. Because of my sensitivity to the oral medication, I would fight between headache and upset stomach, unable to receive the benefits of the medicines.
Because I did not have a primary care physician, the ER was my primary physician. This is the case for so many Virginians now. Four days after suffering with headaches and upset stomach and going in and out of the ER, I was determined they would not send me home. I opted to go to the hospital by ambulance, so that I could get relief for the unbearable headache.
I was admitted to the hospital and placed in a room. I was feeling better, and could finally get some sleep. At one point, I discovered I had no eyesight in my right eye. When the doctor came to visit me the next day, I was immediately sent to Charlottesville for surgery. After the surgery, I lost sight in both eyes. The social worker in the hospital applied for Medicaid for me.
This is where my real battle began. After fighting with eligibility requirements, I was granted Medicaid for three months. I used Medicaid to get the medications I needed to shrink the tumor, supply my body with hydrocortisone to keep me alive, and other medicines. I do not know if I will continue to qualify for Medicaid after the end of this year.
I have shared this story with Speaker of the House William Howell, my delegate in the General Assembly, and I share this story with you now to tell you how critical Medicaid expansion is for residents of Virginia. It would cover individuals and families making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Right now, Virginia’s Medicaid eligibility is strict; the expansion would mean another 400,000 people would be able to get the health insurance coverage they need.
The arguments against Medicaid expansion range from claiming “fiscal conservatism” to saying that people will be better off without the program. The truth is that Medicaid expansion has been shown to have economic benefits to Virginia, and will pay for itself and bring additional revenue to the commonwealth, adding to our economy.
But for me, Medicaid expansion is more personal. Having Medicaid would have meant an earlier diagnosis of my tumor, and I would not be partially blind. I would still be working in my field and able to contribute to my community.
I hope our lawmakers will think about people like me when they consider expanding Medicaid. I hope that my story will help them to understand that Medicaid expansion is not all about politics and policies—it is about real people like me who suffered real consequences when I could not access our health system. My story is only one of many.