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The Oregon Medicaid Lottery, a Winner’s Story

There’s been a lot of talk about the so-called Oregon Experiment. Oregon conducts an annual lottery for a few precious spots in its state Medicaid program. Recently, a group of researchers looked into the program, as a look as to whether an expanded Medicaid makes any difference to people’s health.

Well, Kaiser Health News has one lottery participant’s story:

After winning the lottery, Mary Carson, 55, was accepted into the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, in 2011. She and her partner live with her three children. They earn about $1,000 a month by making and selling replicas of historic battle knives used in the Civil War and the two World Wars, doing odd jobs and providing respite care for people with cancer. Her comments on a popular blog about some of her own experiences on Medicaid have garnered some attention.

Kaiser Health News interviewed Carson by phone this week. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Q: Where did you go for health care before you won the Oregon lottery?

A: There was a low-income clinic that would see people without health insurance, so that’s where I was going when I had no health insurance. They would see people for $25 a visit, so that was enough to keep my prescriptions filled. I have high blood pressure and depression so I need three or four different medicines. I’ve gone to some of the clinics for people with no insurance: a giant group of people in a basketball court, trying to get their tumors looked at. It was just so depressing and doesn’t seem very American and seems wrong.

Q: How did lacking insurance affect your medical care?

A: At one point I needed some cortisone for my asthma and they wanted to do a complete heart work-up to make sure that my troubled breathing wasn’t congestive heart failure. You’re always telling them, “No, no, no, this is the only thing I want.” It’s like trying to buy the burger with no fries at McDonalds. You have this resistance all the time, because doctors and nurses look at you with these big soft eyes and say, “But it would be so important to know your level of cardiac health, I’m really concerned. I’m sure the doctor there will work out something and make payment arrangements.” And it sounds so good and you do it and it never works out. The discount isn’t there or you fill out something wrong and all of a sudden you have a $300 bill in collections. So you have to make sure none of that happens to you.

Q: When you went on Medicaid and could afford blood tests, what did you learn?

A: I found out I have really low Vitamin D levels, that my cholesterol isn’t really good, but it’s not really bad. There are things I need to change in my eating and exercise. My blood sugar, I’m pre-diabetic, just on the edge of needing diabetes medication, so I need to watch what I eat. It’s hard to eat really healthy when you’re on food stamps because you get $3 a day for groceries and you’re not going to get a whole lot of lean meat and vegetables for $3 a day.

Q: How has your health changed since you went on Medicaid?

A: Over the course of nine months or a year I was able to drop two different blood pressure medicines, which is nice because they had side effects I didn’t like. So I’m down to half a pill of one of the medicines and my blood pressure is still stable. For about a five-year period I thought my thyroid medicine was too low and I couldn’t afford the doctor visit to have the lab slip to have the labs read to get a new prescription. That whole procedure is about $300 so I just stayed with the same medicine. With Oregon Health Plan I was able to go back to the doctor and when she said wanted check my thyroid levels I could say, “Yes, I’ll go to the lab and get that done.” They were low again. I was able to get that increased and that made a big difference in how much energy I had and how much better I felt.

Oregon’s Medicaid Lottery: A Participant’s View

Do you think health insurance makes a difference to people’s health? Tell us about it in our discussion forum!

Related posts:

  1. Florida Legislature Passes Medicaid Overhaul… Is This the Future of Medicaid?
  2. The Oregon Experiment: Does Medicaid Make a Difference?
  3. Nearly 50 million Americans On Medicaid for Health Insurance in 2009
  4. Are You A Legal Immigrant Without Health Insurance? Medicaid Can Help!
  5. Medicaid Denies Patient Treatment for Breast Cancer… Because He’s a Man

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