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  1. Opinion

Column: I am a medical student and Medicaid was a lifeline for my family

Published Jun. 26, 2017

When my family was without other options, Medicaid was there for us. That is why I am moved to write this today while the U.S. Senate considers dangerous proposals that would drastically impede the program's ability to be there for other families like ours.

Last year, my wife and I moved to Miami from Boston so I could begin medical school. Leaving behind friends, community and two stable careers to move cross country was a difficult transition. One additional complication was that my school did not offer medical insurance coverage to spouses and dependents of medical students, leaving us searching for medical coverage for my wife. Two weeks before moving, we discovered she was pregnant.

We were thrilled at the prospect of being parents but terrified about how to keep her and our baby healthy. Our search for health insurance grew to a fever pitch. My wife had already been searching for new employment for months with no success. We also arrived in Miami at the same time as the Zika virus.

At first, my wife drenched herself in mosquito repellent every time she stepped outside our front door. As new confirmed cases of Zika sprouted up in the city, we decided it was time for her to make extended visits to family outside Miami. Leaving Miami meant further delaying her chances of finding a job there, which would mean securing an income and employer-sponsored health coverage.

Just when we felt we had nowhere else to turn, we learned she was eligible for Medicaid. In Florida, Medicaid provides health insurance to women who are pregnant and meet certain income requirements. This coverage turned out to be the solution my family needed. With no income and my wife shuttling around the state to spend as little time as possible in Zika zones, Medicaid was the only option for us.

The approval for coverage did not arrive a moment too soon — shortly after she was approved, a prenatal ultrasound alarmed our physician and triggered multiple batteries of additional tests and screenings. These months were a fog of fear and worry, but one of our few comforts was that we had coverage through Medicaid to make those tests possible.

In the end, after months of tests, waiting and an emergency Caesarian section, we welcomed our healthy baby boy into the world. He is five months old now and he too is covered by Medicaid, which pays for his pediatrician visits and physical therapy. My wife relaunched her job hunt while caring for our infant son and will start a full-time position in July. Her employment comes with private health insurance.

Medicaid helps families like ours who face unexpected challenges and need time to get back on their feet. Without this coverage, we would have faced the prospect of forgoing essential testing and prenatal care as we prepared to welcome a new baby. Instead, we got medical coverage and a healthy start.

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Right now, the Senate is preparing to vote on a health care bill that would dismantle the Medicaid program through sweeping cuts to its funding, which would leave families like mine without any option and leave millions of children without any access to care. In our state of Florida alone, 2.4 million children rely on Medicaid for health care coverage.

I am deeply grateful that Medicaid was there to cover my family. Medicaid was the lifeline that provided us with a healthy start and empowered me to pursue my medical career. Now, as a physician in training, I have a deeper understanding of the vital role Medicaid will play in my patients' lives. I am urging Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to vote no on the Senate bill and to instead protect Medicaid so that it can continue to be there for families like mine.

Andrew Stine-Rowe, a medical and public health student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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