It’s Not Political, It’s Personal: We Are On Medicaid, And Here's Why

by Jodi Whitsitt
A family of four, mother, two daughters and a son posing for a photo
Jodi Whitsitt

There’s been something weighing heavy on my heart for months now. I haven’t shared it with you because I have been worried it would appear “too political.”But, it’s not political. It’s personal.

And because it’s part of my struggle after a devastating loss, I’m nervously going to be transparent about this too. So I’m saying a big prayer, closing my eyes, and with a big gulp, I am about to reveal a very personal thing. I hope you’ll read this with an open mind and an extra grace-filled heart when I confess to you that my family is on Medicaid.

When I married my husband, I was able to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom while my husband became our family’s sole source of income. He worked so hard and took great pride in providing for us. It was his salary that paid our bills and allowed us to receive decent health insurance. We lived comfortably — he had a PhD and brought home a decent income — and I recognized this privilege while living it and was beyond grateful for it.

Years later, when he became ill, a lot of our money was spent on medications, at-home health services, various medical bills, and special equipment. We adjusted, but watched with fear as our savings depleted. Being sick costs a lot of money.

After he died, there was no more income from his job. There was no more health insurance. Because he worked so hard for so many years, there were Social Security survivor benefits available for us, something not all people qualify for. I was so grateful for that. Because his income was good, we were able to live comfortably, with adjustments, on this new, reduced income. However, health insurance was a trickier situation. I looked into buying a plan and was sent to Medicaid instead, because we qualified.

I could have continued the coverage we had, but the COBRA premium was more than our new monthly income. Sure, I could have immediately tried to find a new career after caring for my husband and children for over a decade, but my kids were facing so many new, scary changes like transitioning to public school and trying to regulate their own grief and a roller coaster of emotions. I knew they needed me. They needed me to be there before and after school. They needed me to be the one taking them to their frequent counseling appointments. They needed me. They needed something in their lives to stay the same, to stay consistent, stable, and secure.

Even though I know with certainty this was the right decision for us, guilt, fear, shame, and embarrassment smother me every day. I listen to people who don’t know our full situation make callous, judgmental, and unkind statements about Medicaid and the people on it. It seems many people view Medicaid recipients as lazy, gaming-the-system types. And that makes me feel sad and ashamed. It makes me feel less-than. It makes me wonder: Is that who we are now? Are we suddenly bad, lazy, and immoral members of society because we found ourselves in a difficult, life-changing situation?

My husband and I both worked for years paying into systems like Medicaid with every paycheck. And yet the opinions I can’t help but hear make me feel guilty to be relying on it — if even for a temporary period of time as I try to move forward after the loss of my life partner.

I’m working hard to try to build a career that will one day, God willing, allow my family to buy affordable private insurance, but for now, people’s spoken and unspoken, but inferred opinions have me feeling ashamed to have an iPhone, a minivan, and a safe home while being on Medicaid, even though all of these things were acquired long before my husband’s death. And our still necessary parts of our lives today.

On TV, in the newspapers, on social media, and in overheard conversations at the store, I feel the judgment. They are talking about me, but do they know that? Are we the family they imagine when they throw mean-spirited words around? Are we the family who comes to their minds when they blame “poor people without jobs” for driving up their health care premiums? Are we the people who disgust them for being on Medicaid while driving a decent car or using an iPhone?

I didn’t ask for my husband to become ill. I didn’t ask for the level of in-home care he required to not be covered by insurance. I didn’t wish for my kids and I to require frequent counseling. And I didn’t hope that one day we would be a family of four instead of five, living off a small fraction of what we once did.

But this is what happened after my husband died. This is our new reality. And Medicaid is there for us. And so, as difficult as it is, we opted to rely on this safety net for now, while we heal, plan, and work hard for a better future.

I know we aren’t alone. After all, nearly 70 million Americans rely on Medicaid. That’s 1 in 5 people! In fact, Medicaid is the largest insurer in the country. Some Medicaid recipients are old, some are young, some disabled, and some (like me) had the financial wind knocked out of them and are trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives. I don’t know their stories, and I try not to assume I do. But I know they have one.

What I want you all to know is that I’m not lazy. I’m not intentionally “milking the system.” I am trying my best to rebuild our lives and working very hard to “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” but that takes time. I am taking necessary steps available to care for my family’s financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. I recognize the privilege in this, as I’m sure there are other families who can’t pay all of their bills with survivor benefits. In fact, I’m sure some don’t even qualify for them. They have no choice in their scenario. That is why I pray one day I’ll be able to sponsor one of these families to help soften the blow — to give them a month or two to regroup and heal. I’m a long way from that goal, but I think about those people daily. I want to help them find a little security they may not otherwise have.

But right now, I’m not feeling very secure myself. Being a widowed mom has devastating effects on self-confidence. There are so many fears to battle every day as I try to make the best choices for my kids and myself. Self-worth has taken a hit, and my worry often prevails over faith. And on top of the usual worries, I now worry about Medicaid. What will we do if it is taken from us? What about my son’s pre-existing condition? Will we be able to afford his meds? Will my children still be able to go to counseling? Who will care for them before and after school, and at what cost financially? What employer will allow me to take so much time off for appointments, calls, and meetings at the school? These things are constantly swirling through my mind every single day, and I am constantly re-evaluating my options.

And still, at this time, I come back to the truth that what we are doing right now is the very best thing for us. It isn’t permanent, but it’s the best thing for us as we continue to heal and work on reconstructing our life.

I don’t know the battles people are fighting privately. A nice house, a nice car, or an “everything is fine here” smile do not always reveal a wounded heart, paralyzing fear, or disabling insecurity. I don’t know if divorce, illness, abuse, grief, or job loss is happening in their lives. It would be wrong of me to make assumptions or judgments.

I know first hand how life can change in an instant. I have learned how one event can leave you devastated emotionally, physically, and/or financially. I have learned no one is exempt from being in a situation where help and safety nets are required. I’ve learned how the cruelty of this life does not discriminate. And that is why I wish we’d love each other more with understanding, kindness, encouragement, and support instead of judgment, blame, shame, hurtful words, and cruel assumptions. Needing a leg up sometimes is a mostly universal human condition.

We all need extra compassion — every day, but especially when this world knocks us down. Let’s do our best to give this gift to one another, okay? Let’s show love by offering grace, maybe even some extra grace.