I was happy to discover this week that under the federal Affordable Care Act, I qualify for dependable medical coverage under Medicaid. What I hadn't bargained for when I signed up Tuesday was my becoming the center of a national conservative media frenzy.
I was quoted in news stories about the opening days of the program's implementation and, for those unhappy with the health care plan, I became a symbol for all that is wrong with helping those who can't afford health insurance. I can understand how a commentator in The Wall Street Journal and Rush Limbaugh would latch onto news that a 30-year-old, third-year law student qualified for Medicaid as some sort of scam. But in their zeal, they miss the point.
For my first two years in school, I purchased the health plan that the University of Connecticut offered. It had a high premium, however, and by the third year I decided to shop around. I found a plan with a low premium, but the sort of coverage that made you nervous about what would happen if you got sick or broke a bone.
So, when Access Health CT came online as part of the national Affordable Care Act, I decided to see if I could do better. I could.
During these last couple of years while I've been in school, I worked part time during the school year and in the summer. With my low income, I qualified for Medicaid. It was my willingness to talk about how the new system helped me and how easy it is to use that made me a target for those wanting to derail the federal health care program.
With the key part of the Affordable Care Act coming into effect, the same people who have decried death panels have decided that they should have input into what kind of health care we deserve. It doesn't matter if you are a full-time student who works part time and needs assistance for a few months. Nor does it matter that you've been paying taxes into the system, but for a short period you need a little help and now you're relying on it. Nope. You're a welfare king and a moocher.
Large corporations take advantage of vast tax loopholes and the richest of Americans continue to pay an artificially reduced tax rate because they aren't adequately taxed on investment income and avoid taxable income at all costs. Instead, it's a lot easier to beat up on a student and declare the system a failure because it provides incentives for the apparently socially undesirable behavior of putting yourself through school.
We have largely stopped complaining about a small business receiving a subsidy or benefit; or when a farmer, an unemployed person, a person with disabilities or a senior is helped by the government. Hopefully, we can get to that mind-set regarding people who need assistance to obtain adequate and affordable health coverage.
Health care is a fundamental right. It's shameful that more than half the states in the union have decided that their less wealthy residents are undeserving of that right and that they must continue to defer care until they require emergency care at the greatest cost.
I'm fortunate to live in a state that thought the Medicaid expansion was a good idea and expanding the safety net was the right thing to do for its residents. Twenty-six other states don't seem to hold their citizens in such high regard. They would prefer the less wealthy of them to forgo treatment until it's too late, so that the health risk to them is the highest and the cost to everyone else is the greatest.
No one needs to justify why they are seeking coverage under the Affordable Care Act. All this shaming is a ploy to make something that is a positive change in our country seem insidious and wrong.
Brendan L. Mahoney lives in Hartford.