By Brigit M., Alachua County
I used to work in a call center for the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace a few years ago, and Florida was one of the most heartbreaking states to work with. So many people in the state are below the poverty line, and that has only gotten worse now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I actually moved to Florida in 2016 and I’ve been uninsured for more than 5 years. I’m currently unemployed, and while I do some freelance work on the side to make a bit of cash, I’m only making about $1,200 a year. I’ve applied for Medicaid on multiple occasions and have been denied each time because I’m not pregnant and I don’t have children. At the same time, I don’t make enough money to have private insurance. Even when I was working, I wouldn’t have made enough money to pay for my own bills as well as health insurance, despite any kind of subsidy that I might have received.
A decent amount of my income goes toward making sure that I have the medications I need just to function. I have fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, hypothyroidism, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). To clarify a bit about PCOS, it is a hormonal disorder that can have a variety of effects. It causes me to have infrequent menstrual cycles, but it can also cause excessive hair growth, weight gain, and difficulty losing weight. It can even lead to cancer if it isn’t handled properly. I think that anyone who has a uterus should absolutely be screened for PCOS. On the other hand, fibromyalgia is a condition that causes my pain receptors to be dialed up to an 11 at all times, so I’m always in pain. Sometimes the pain gets worse, while sometimes it gets better. Having fibromyalgia also requires that I see a doctor regularly for medications and blood work. Due to my medical conditions, I’m currently in the process of applying for disability. I believe that getting approved may come with Medicare as a benefit, but the process is really slow-going. I don’t know if I will even end up qualifying for it.
Having access to my medications is something that I constantly need to prioritize in my life. My antidepressants not only address my depression and anxiety, but they also address my pain. My doctor has me on Cymbalta, an antidepressant that also targets fibromyalgia symptoms. I used to be on a medication that would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 just for a month’s supply. For somebody who is having to make sure that my $400 car payment is made, $100 is a lot. Thankfully, the local Equal Access Clinic has helped ease some of the financial obstacles I’ve faced when trying to access the care I need.
Since November 2020, I’ve been visiting the Equal Access Clinic a couple of times every few months to get refills on my medications. Prior to that, I was going to a sliding scale clinic called Acorn. It was forced to close down a couple of years ago due to lack of funding, so I went without care for about a year before finding the Equal Access Clinic. During that time period, I fortunately had enough of a supply of some of my medications to get by. However, there were certain medications that I didn’t have access to at all during that span of time. I had already been struggling to make enough money to pay for my medications, and after Acorn closed, I wasn’t able to afford seeing other doctors to get the refills I needed. I’m grateful that the Equal Access Clinic has alleviated some of these issues for me. Since starting to go there, I’ve been on less expensive medications than the ones I was paying for previously. They even provide me with a 3 month supply of my medications, rather than the one month supply I was limited to before. Without the Equal Access Clinic, I would most likely be suffering and in pain every single day.
Given that I used to work for an Affordable Care Act call center, Medicaid expansion is something that I had to explain to a lot of people. If Florida expanded Medicaid and I were to qualify for it, it would certainly make things a lot easier for me. I wouldn’t have to deal with as much hoop-jumping as I do now. It would lessen my anxiety around appointment scheduling because there would be more of a chance that I could visit the doctor at times that are more convenient for me. It would also mean that I could go to a singular doctor regularly, rather than merely hoping that I get to see the same doctor each time. In turn, this would lead to less time I need to spend explaining my situation and health history, and more time that I can just focus on my actual care. Additionally, my medications would be covered if I qualified for Medicaid, and I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to afford them. So if Medicaid expansion would have a huge impact on me, I can only imagine the impact it would have on people in worse situations.
Rather than letting so many people go without health care for so long, I wish every state had expanded Medicaid when they had the initial opportunity to do so. I’m lucky enough to live in a fairly suburban area where a place like the Equal Access Clinic exists, but sometimes people don’t know that there are resources like this around them. In some places, such as rural areas, resources like this are nonexistent and people have nowhere to turn for their health care if they are uninsured. If Medicaid were to expand in Florida, it would honestly be life-changing for a lot of people.