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Threats To Medicaid Turn Health Care Users Into Activists

Cuts to Medicaid have been at the heart of much of the Congressional debate over health care. The federally funded health care program for the poor has been a target of most G.O.P proposals to repeal or repeal and replace Obamacare.  The threats to Medicaid have spurred a new level of activism among some recipients in Washington state.Loss Of Job, Loss Of Health Care

George Poston, who lives in Auburn, never thought he would end up on Medicaid. He says, as a professional chef for more than 20 years, he lived a middle class life, complete with employer-provided health insurance.

“They were good plans. Everyone in my family needs glasses and contacts, so we had vision and dental,” Poston said.

But, that middle class life went away a year and a half ago when Poston lost his job.

Unexpected Diagnosis And Mounting Medical Bills

Shortly after being laid off, Poston's doctor discovered a blood clot in his leg and several in his lungs.

“It was causing an irregular heartbeat and making it hard for me to breathe,” Poston said.

Initially, he had to give himself injections, which cost $1,100 per week.

Poston said what saved him was Washington’s Medicaid program, known as Apple Health. It now pays for his doctor visits and medications.

Poston's coverage was a direct result of the Medicaid expansion Washington opted into under a provision in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Adults who earn up to $16,000 per year that don't have minor children can now receive Medicaid.

Fighting Misperceptions About Medicaid

Poston is feeling better now and is looking for part time work. But he suspects, at 63, his age may be the reason he hasn’t gotten anything yet.

Meanwhile, he uses his culinary skills as a volunteer, helping prepare a community meal for the homeless once a week at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Auburn. He has also joined the Washington Community Action Network, which has held rallies and protests against health care cuts.

Poston says it bugs him the way some politicians describe Medicaid recipients.

“That we didn’t live our lives right, that we’re all drug users, that we don’t want to work and just want to live off the government dole. That’s just not true,” he said.

A Single Mom Tells Her Story

At the Kona Kai coffee shop in downtown Kent, Tina Velasquez  sits next to two of her children, 11-year-old Ciara and 9-year-old Chris.

Tina wears a hard-to-miss bright red T-shirt emblazoned with the Washington Community Action Network logo. She has been one of their strongest citizen activists, attending rallies and meeting with members of Congress.

When asked to describe herself, she says she is a single mom and a hard worker who never gives up. She says she came to Washington state from Texas six years ago because of domestic violence.

Velasquez says she and her children were able to get on Washington’s Medicaid program. It pays for counseling for her and her children as well as medication for her daughter's Attention Deficit Disorder.

An Emotional Connection To Congressman Reichert

In her activist role, Velasquez met with her elected representative, Republican Congressman Dave Reichert before the U.S. House voted to repeal Obamacare. He was initially uncommitted.

But Velasquez said when they talked, there was a connection. Reichert told her about the physical abuse he had suffered as a child.

"And he touched me really emotional, like how he speak with me and we got a really great conversation about that,” Velasquez said.

She says when he voted against repeal, she thought maybe her story had made an impression.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.