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Mom of ACT star says Medicaid helped out when she was pregnant

MARGARET REIST Lincoln Journal StarMay 18, 2019

As Elisia Flaherty watched her son being honored last week for his perfect ACT score, the governor’s words transported her back to her life 18 years earlier.

“When the time comes to settle down,” the governor said to the record number of perfect-score honorees, “we want you here in Nebraska.”

Eighteen years earlier, Flaherty was a student, newly married and facing complications from her first pregnancy that required tests and hospital stays that were covered by Medicaid.

Record number of Nebraska students, including 8 from one school, earn perfect ACT, SAT scores

Sitting in the state Capitol’s Warner Chamber with other proud parents, she figured the state was getting a pretty good return on its investment in her son, a senior at Grand Island High School who aced his ACT on the first try and was offered a full-ride scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Did the governor — who opposed Medicaid expansion that voters ultimately approved through a ballot initiative and now has a plan that will take two years to implement — realize the role Medicaid played in her son’s early years?

Medicaid, she said, provided a safety net that saved her and her husband thousands of dollars of debt — and possibly bankruptcy.

Her husband worked at a hospital and had minimal insurance that only covered routine pregnancy costs including one ultrasound, she said. Both she and her husband were attending community college and Flaherty had to stop working because of the complications, which started with severe morning sickness.

Doctors worried her son wasn’t growing correctly and it meant weekly tests, months of bed rest and regular ultrasounds. When she started having pre-term contractions, she was hospitalized.

Ultimately, a healthy, 7-pound baby was born and his parents named him Samuel.

“All of that is to say is ... Medicaid is what kept us afloat,” she said.

Medicaid expansion supporters call foul, will consider lawsuit

Without the coverage provided to her and her son, she said, she’s sure the medical bills would have been overwhelming. She can’t imagine she and her husband could have finished school.

As it turns out, Samuel’s father earned his master’s degree and his mom her bachelor’s. Flaherty is remarried now, and Samuel is the oldest of her four children. She works as a piano accompanist for Grand Island Public Schools.

Samuel grew up loving to read, participating in show choir and band, competing in science competitions and performing in plays and musicals. He filled his high school schedule with advanced placement classes that undoubtedly helped prepare him for the ACT he took with the rest of his junior class last year.

He just made the drum line for the NU Marching Band and he’ll study mechanical engineering, his mom said.

Flaherty had jokingly told him that if he got the chance he should tell the governor he was a Medicaid baby (he didn’t) — and it really hit her when the governor made an appeal to the high-achieving students to choose Nebraska as their home. She took to Twitter to express her opinion.

“I just think the governor might have a wrong impression of what it means to need Medicaid,” she said. “It’s people like my son.”

Flaherty doesn’t remember exactly why she was covered by Medicaid — besides their low income — but it was likely because she was pregnant.

For years, Medicaid in Nebraska has covered certain groups of low-income people: pregnant moms, kids, some parents, people with disabilities and senior citizens. There are different income guidelines for each of those groups that fall between 58 and 213 percent of the federal poverty level.

That represents an income for a single person between $604 and $2,217 a month (household income for children).

Medicaid expansion will create coverage for about 90,000 people: childless adults up to 138 percent of poverty — those who make about $16,000 a year — and parents whose income means they fall in a gap between Medicaid and subsidies provided under the Affordable Care Act.

The governor has made improving customer service for Medicaid and other state assistance a priority since taking office, said his spokesman Taylor Gage.

While supporters of Medicaid expansion have criticized Ricketts’ two-year implementation timeline, Gage said the governor’s budget reflects the vote of the people and his team met the deadline set in the ballot initiative to submit an implementation plan.

Flaherty likely would have been covered even without the Medicaid expansion, but she falls squarely on the side of supporting expanded coverage because her — and her son’s — story could have turned out very differently without it.

“I truly believe we should have universal health care, health care for all,” she said. “I just think health care is a human right and people should be able to access the services they need.”

And in the polarized debate about Medicaid, some would have seen her as someone “mooching” off the state, she said, but she’s raised a bright, successful son the state now is courting to make his home here.

“I would definitely say my struggle opened my eyes to how these issues actually affect people,” she said.

If you want success in the long term, she said, you need to spend the money up front on things like access to health care and early childhood education.

“It pays off in the long run,” she said.

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