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Expand Medicaid Now! (My Testimony to Florida Congress)

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Last week I took off from work and drove the four hours to my state's capital, Tallahassee, to speak at a meeting of the Florida Congress. I've been researching and advocating for health care reform for a couple of years now, so what I said had serious time, thought, and emotion behind it.

I was typing up the testimony afterward to send to family, but decided to share here so perhaps a little extra light might shine on such an important topic; however, this is a complex issue. In case you haven't been following it, I strongly urge you to educate yourself as it affects us all on many levels. If you are saying to yourself, "Health Care Re-whuh?" and have nine minutes to spare, this video is a good, lighthearted introduction.

Some important things have changed since last year though when the Supreme Court ruled on the federal law (The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010) prompting all the proposed changes I'm speaking of here. In case you're not up-to-date on the ACA and/or the Court's ruling, here are the the main things to know for these purposes:

1) "Medicaid expansion" loosely means, providing free basic care to more poor people than we do now.

2) In Florida -- where one in five of us is uninsured -- this would be about one million more people. (For your reference, that's one in 19 Floridians.)

3) The Federal Government would pay 100 percent of the cost to do this for three years, then slowly edge down to 90 percent by 2020.

4) Each state gets to decide whether or not they want to do this. While I speak of Florida here, these issues are probably paralleled where you live. You can see whether or not your state is participating here.

Since Florida led the charge of the 26 states who took the Federal Government to court on this issue, discussions are tense about whether or not to participate.

Now that we're all on the same page, here's my testimony:

"Hello, my name is Allison Berkowitz and I'm a Social Worker visiting from Senator Simmons' district to talk with you about Medicaid Expansion. For the last two years, I've had the pleasure of working in Orange County under an umbrella network of clinics called 'PCAN.' These clinics provide primary physical -- and at times, emotional -- care to those who fall in between the cracks of Medicaid and individually paid-for care.

Now, as good of a job as these clinics are doing, they are not able to meet the needs of all the people. Twice a week, a building I work in also serves as a free after-hours clinic. Each time, I regret to tell you that I see individuals line up hours before the clinic opens and then others go home untreated later in the night because only a handful of people can be seen in one evening by these generous doctors, nurses, and staff, volunteering their time.

The greatest point I want to convey is that Medicaid Expansion is being proposed because we need it. I've heard people ideologically ask, 'Can we afford to do it?' I believe we can't afford not to!

Preventative care makes sense. It just does. On a human level as well as a fiscal level.

The clinics I work for were largely funded to combat the number of uninsured people coming through the local emergency rooms. That number has declined substantially since these clinics have been serving the people.

I believe this is a rare opportunity to be guided by both our compassion as well as our logic. I urge you to do just that and let them guide you towards Medicaid Expansion and accepting the Federal funds allocated to Florida for this purpose."

I hope you enjoyed what you've read here. To close, I have just a few more points for your consideration.

1) In our state of Florida, it is estimated that this expansion would create 65,000 jobs within the first six years.

2) Poor looks a lot different than you might think. Have you heard the term "Working Poor?" These are people trying to take care of their families the best they can -- perhaps working two, three jobs, and still barely making ends meet.

3) The poor and working poor are already hurting and constantly having to make hard decisions ("Do I get the milk or the medicine?"). I believe not expanding Medicaid is just one more way for them to feel more stressed, isolated, and abandoned by their fellow man.

Health care reform is a complicated issue and I've tried to keep things very broad here to engage a wide range of people. If you're interested in learning more, here are a few places to start:

Resource 1: About The Affordable Care Act
Resource 2: About Medicaid
Resource 3: Some of the benefits of expansion via Harvard Law
Resource 4: 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines

If you are in Florida and would like a list of the congressional committee members (currently involved in the decision of whether or not to expand) and their contact information, I would love to pass this on to you; please email me.

Original Artwork by Tribbey Harmon