After watching my congressman, Tom MacArthur, vote to take away the health care I depend on, I decided it was time to do something I’ve never done before — get involved. When I found out MacArthur was holding a town hall, I decided I had to go. I did it because my life and my soon-to-be-born son’s life are worth it, and we deserve health care.I’ve been struggling with addiction and mental illness for a long time. I’ve been clean for two years, but it took a lot of work, and I know it wouldn’t be possible without Medicaid. I came back from the depths of hell only to find myself at the bottom, struggling every day to find work, as well as rides to my therapy sessions and recovery meetings.
It wasn’t easy to stay in recovery, and it still isn’t. But with Medicaid, I don’t have to wonder if I’ll be able to afford the services I need. I know I always have access to them. In addition to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholic Anonymous, addicts like me need support from professionals in the medical field to help us stay in recovery. Without access to Medicaid, our only options are jails, institutions or death.
Experts say it can take about five years to fully recover from addiction. That means continuous work with therapists and counselors and often medication that can stabilize underlying mental illnesses and support recovery. But that’s all expensive. A single shot of my medication can cost more than $1,000. And those are just the costs directly associated with my recovery. Many recovering addicts also have underlying health conditions that have long been neglected and have not kept up with preventive care like annual physicals or general dental care. Treating those conditions can cost so much more.
That’s why recovery is simply not possible for most addicts without the support of Medicaid. We’re trying to become productive members of society, but there are many barriers to finding a good job that make affording health care that much harder for recovering addicts. Employers don’t like prolonged gaps in employment, making it difficult to prove you’re qualified to work. Currently, I have a minimum wage job that doesn’t offer health care benefits, making Medicaid my only support for accessing the care I need.
MacArthur should know all this. He’s long worked to increase funding for addiction treatment and is the co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic. Why then does he support a bill like the American Health Care Act that would undermine these critical efforts and leave families like mine fearful for our futures?
When I asked MacArthur this question during his town hall, he said he admired my courage and thanked me for sharing my story. He said, “I want to reassure you that the Medicaid help you’ve gotten: Nothing in this bill is cutting that. I don’t know why people are saying that or where they’re getting that from.”
Here’s where I’m getting it from: The AHCA repeals the Medicaid Expansion that offered care to 562,000 people in New Jersey and millions of uninsured Americans across the country. It would also radically transform traditional Medicaid to permanently cut the federal money states need to support their Medicaid programs, forcing cuts for all kinds of services, including treatment for addiction and mental health.
Worse still, the MacArthur Amendment actually puts more people at risk by allowing states to opt out of the key provision that requires insurers to cover mental health services like treatment for addition and prescription drugs. It would also allow insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing conditions — including mental illness and substance abuse — more for their coverage, putting health care out of reach for many and actively punishing people with addictions and in recovery.
The fact is, MacArthur may mean well, but his bill endangers the help I and others depend on to survive.
He should be fighting to end cuts to Medicaid and threats of insurance deregulation. He should work to get our state’s families the care they deserve.
Joanna Robinson, of Toms River, is a member of New Jersey Organizing Project, a grassroots community organization that is dedicated to fighting for economic security and dignity for all, full & fair Sandy recovery, and developing a plan for sea level rise.