Stories from the coverage gap: Linda teeters on the edge

Knock. Knock. Linda, a retired woman in her sixties, comes to the front door of her rural Nebraska home on a rainy, summer day. She offered to let me in, wondering what had me out in the poor weather.

The door was just one that I approached when the Center for Rural Affairs joined the effort in gathering signatures for a petition to put Medicaid expansion on the public ballot. Our organization helped gather 105,000 signatures, and now Initiative 427 will be put before Nebraskans in a matter of days.

Linda said she is personally affected by the effort. Her daughter falls into the health insurance coverage gap – meaning she makes too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford other insurance options. By request, I have kept her and her daughter’s anonymity.

Linda grew up in a small town in rural Nebraska. She moved back home after the Great Recession made living in a more expensive state unrealistic. She and her daughter put down roots almost a decade ago and have been living without insurance for a good part of that time.

Linda’s daughter, who works in utilities, hasn’t seen a dentist, optometrist, or a general doctor in almost 10 years. She’s put it off for so long because she falls in the Medicaid gap. She suffers from chronic migraines that hamper her ability to work during flare ups. She, like many other Nebraskans, is not offered insurance by her employer and can’t work a second job due to her work schedule.

Meanwhile, Linda has also suffered under Nebraska’s current Medicaid system. After she moved back to the state, she took a job that didn’t offer health insurance from 2008 to 2013. For nearly six years, Linda went without any kind of health care coverage. During this time, Linda developed problems with her vision, which was important to her work at a local business. Without health care coverage, Linda was forced to apply for a charity care lottery in order to get the surgery she needed to save her job.

Linda’s story isn’t an anomaly – rural areas have a higher uninsured rate as fewer rural residents have access to jobs that provide health insurance.

Currently, Linda works part-time; this income is paired with what she pulls from her Social Security. This has provided her with enough money to qualify for subsidies under the Health Insurance Marketplace. She is relieved she will be going into Medicare next year, but her daughter will remain uninsured without Medicaid expansion.

Linda is also concerned about the atmosphere surrounding the vote to expand Medicaid.

“It rattles me that I see family and neighbors who see it as a political issue,” she said. “They act like it’s a football game with winners and losers. I want people to realize it benefits us all as a society to care.”

On Nov. 6, we will have a chance to vote on Initiative 427 and decide if we want to provide health care coverage for 90,000 of our neighbors who are looking to make the good life a reality. A vote for Initiative 427 would give Nebraskans, like Linda and her daughter, a chance to do just that.