Medicaid column inspires racists to emerge from under rocks

I spoke candidly about the need for Medicaid. And the haters attacked.

The failed Republican effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act included a major administrative shift in the health insurance program for the poor. Federal funds for Medicaid would be capped, putting the onus on states to figure out how to cover people who can’t afford health care.

As someone who was on Medicaid as a child, I fear for people who might suffer without access to health care. Without Medicaid, I wouldn’t have gotten treatment for a debilitating illness. My brother Mitchell, who suffered terribly with epilepsy, wouldn’t have received the medical attention he needed.

I thought my experience, which I discussed in a recent column, might help people better understand the face of poverty. There are many families who work hard and still can’t afford health care.

And yes, there are also people who make monumentally bad decisions that result in their need for assistance. But should we abandon them?

For some, judging by the feedback I received, the answer is yes.

“Since you teach and preach personal responsibility, I urge you to [endorse] genetic testing,” a Virginia man wrote. “Your brother Mitchell should never have been conceived.”

Some readers wanted to know why my four siblings and I ended up living with my grandmother Big Mama, as if there should be a moral test to determine if we deserved aid.

I did not share that part of our story because it shouldn’t matter.

Do we really want a government that seeks to support only those people whom politicians deem worthy of assistance? Do we want to withhold health insurance from needy children until some bureaucrat makes an assessment of worthiness and checks a box?

If some parents — broken people for whatever reason — act irresponsibly, does that mean they should be disqualified from ever receiving aid? Should their children not be able to see a doctor or get medicine? Should the whole family be forced to endure a life of misery?

“Your opinions about Medicaid are not shared by everyone,” another reader wrote, “and although I am glad that you and your siblings were helped by this program, there are many hardworking people out there that are paying to support those who are careless in their decisions about having children in the first place and then expecting the government to take care of these children.”

And then there was the following email, most of which isn’t fit to print and which contained several uses of the N-word: “I see in your article about your childhood. Poor … blah, blah, blah. What makes you think white America is going to keep footing the bill for you [expletives]?”

Part of me loathes giving a platform to such hatred and racism. But that which we fail to reveal lives and grows in darkness.

I understand all too well the pathology of poverty. I don’t excuse those who make life choices that result in others having to pick up the pieces. I was one of those pieces.

Yet, we can’t afford to leave millions of people without a safety net. If not out of compassion, at least recognize that when you pull people up, we are all lifted.

Healthy people are more productive — able to work and pay taxes.

Amid the ugliness and judgment were folks who offered a more charitable view.

One reader wrote: “People who have never experienced severe health problems have no idea how hard it is to lead a productive life, much less determine how to pay heinously expensive medication and doctor-visit costs. If only they could walk a mile in those shoes, they would be as repulsed as many people are that Medicaid is being blamed for the national debt.”

Paul, a teacher in Fairfax, Virginia, has a brother with Down syndrome. His mother received help after developing Alzheimer’s.

“I have tears in my eyes thinking where my family would have been without some assistance from government,” he wrote. “But the tears are also from growing up in a time when people were callous or cruel to those less fortunate. I thought ignorance and lack of care toward the most vulnerable were in the country’s rearview mirror.”

We have come to a crossroads where the desire by some to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit could have the effect of downsizing the care for our population’s most needy.

There is no doubt that we have to control government spending. Just like with your household budget, you can’t forever sustain spending more than you take in.

But we also have to balance fiscal responsibility with the moral obligation to help our nation’s most vulnerable.

© 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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