March 26, 2014

Sometimes, on a rare Wednesday morning off, this nurse just has to cook herself a full pancake breakfast. This morning with bacon and eggs sizzling, I upped the nerd ante, and tuned into The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. A few segments (and pancakes) in, I was lucky enough to catch an interview with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation‘s Senior Policy Adviser, Susan Dentzer, regarding the upcoming March 31st deadline for health insurance sign-ups under the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA Deadline is Coming via Brian Lehrer and WNYC
“The ACA Deadline is Coming” via The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC

Callers rang between juicy policy tidbits, with one striking me as particularly shocking. A young woman explained that she was working as an independent contractor (in my ‘hood, we call it freelancing), and that this year had been rough. She was unable to log hardly any income on the books. What would she do? How could she afford Obamacare? Dentzer’s answer was incredibly simple, but behind her clear instruction, I could hear her excitement to give this woman good news: In essence, she had nothing to lose by looking into the ACA – she lives in New York! – she’d likely qualify for Medicaid! In response, the caller seemed baffled, quiet, like this information had never occurred to her.

This stopped me in my tracks. By that time in the show, I had moved on to housework, and was ironing a shirt. With hot iron swinging, I yelled to my leftover pancakes, “SHE DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT MEDICAID?!” Amazed by the idea that someone my age, in this super-connected town, didn’t know that she might qualify for completely free medical coverage set my wheels turning. Why, oh millennial generation, why, are we so out of the loop on this new fad?

But then I wondered, after I put my iron down, is it cluelessness, or is it shame? The origins of Medicaid, while sterling, have suffered decades of abuse from the conservative right, religious groups, and the recipients themselves, leaving its reputation quite tarnished, maybe even a little grimy. Most times, it’s lumped in the same conversational pile as disability, and that dreaded word that I wish someone would abolish, “welfare.” Stereotypes abound; people abusing the system, the noncompliant poor, the bad care offered.

No wonder this woman, and likely many in my generation, might balk at the public declaration of poverty. New York is a place that exalts the wealthy to demigod status, and shuns the poor to the periphery of anonymity. But in a town where most of us are trying to make it in our careers, just starting out on our own creative or scholastic measure, or already do what we love regardless of the paycheck, poverty is kind of the norm. Maybe we do an okay job of hiding it by playing the part of the thriving progressive, but I know very few people my age in New York who live with exorbitant amounts of expendable income for things other than the tools for their survival and success (rent, fashion, fun).

Lindsey Jones is a NY-based freelancing makeup artist. Here, she shows followers her makeover tricks.
Lindsey Jones is a NY-based freelancing makeup artist. Here, she shows followers her makeover tricks.

Which makes me think…maybe Medicaid needs a makeover? Maybe, instead of the tired brand we’ve long written off, up-and-coming artists, fashion designers, writers, actors and freelancers of all types should start “coming out” as proud recipients of the most fashionable accessory on the market: Medicaid. Maybe, if we use our millennial insight and technical savvy to demand the most out of this sexy new commodity that our country (and state!) is giving to us for free, the provided services would improve – not just for us newcomers, but for those who have used it since its inception.

We change our wardrobes daily with each passing fad, we dress our dogs, we’re the most eclectic city in the country: Come on, New York. I know you like a good before and after. Why not Medicaid? Time’s running out before the clock strikes twelve Monday night.