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Feeling 2 Inches Tall (Or, My Trip to the Medicaid Office)

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Some of you may have missed it, but my ex-husband got fired from his job last week. I’m relieved that we’re divorced and it doesn’t directly affect me, but that’s not the point. The point is that he carried my son’s health insurance, and that coverage ended once the ex signed his termination notice. The way my luck has been lately, there’s no way I’m going to let my child go without health insurance. I had to do whatever it took to get him covered, and in a hurry.

Which meant walking into the Medicaid office on Monday morning after swearing years ago that I would NEVER set foot in there again.

A Blast From the Past

When I walked in, it was like a time warp back to 2002. Same 1970s green paint on the walls. Same rows of plastic chairs welded together (I guess in case someone gets disgruntled and decides to use them as weapons). Even the ancient posters for reporting welfare fraud and child abuse hadn’t changed. I walked up to the receptionist, who was on the phone and looked as pissy and decrepit as the day I met her in 1998.

“Community Based Services, please hold. Community Based Services, please hold. CAN I HELP YOU?”

I waited a second to make sure she was talking to me. “I need to apply for Medicaid for my son.”

She shoved a clipboard at me and went right back to the phone. I took a seat between two other women and filled out the form, then returned it to the receptionist, who glared at me and took it without a word.

I turned in the paperwork at 8:45. From then until 11:15, I sat in the waiting room listening to people complain about everything from the economy to the weather. I could feel them staring at my embroidered work shirt, which identified me as a therapist for a mental health agency. I could tell they were wondering what the hell I was doing there. I felt like telling them I wondered the same thing.

I Meet My Caseworker

Just when I thought I would die in that plastic chair, a woman barked my name. I looked up just in time to see her walk away. By the time I stood up and got my purse, I had to run down the hall to catch her. She strode into a crowded office that smelled like stale incense. (Sidebar: WHY are so many social workers hippies? I’m a social worker and I’m not a hippie. I don’t get it.)

“I need two months of pay stubs.” No hello, no introduction. What a bitch! I thought.

I handed her my pay stubs.

“I need your driver’s license and a photo ID of the child.”

I handed them over.

“Does the child have other insurance?”

“He did, but–”

She held up a hand to silence me. “I don’t need to hear your whole life story.” Yep, definitely a bitch.

Throughout the interrogation, as I like to think of it, my caseworker never once made eye contact with me. The closest she got was a glance up at my shirt, after which she snorted and said, “You’re a THERAPIST and you don’t make any more money than this?” I opted not to respond since I didn’t think I could do so without going to jail afterward.

I waited for what seemed like an hour while she typed furiously, Simon and Garfunkel playing in the background (I wish that part wasn’t for real, but it is). Finally, she stood, shoved a business card and a HIPAA notice at me, and walked out of the office. Assuming I was dismissed, I followed.

When we arrived back at the lobby, her words came out like they were powered by a machine gun: “You’ll-get-the-card-in-30-days.-Here’s-your-driver’s-license-and-the-child’s-ID.-Don’t-call-me-asking-where-your-card-is-because-I-don’t-know.-Any-questions-call-the-number-on-my-card-and-leave-a-message.” She was gone before I even processed what she said.

I walked out the door and burst into tears.

Ah, the Joy of Asking for Help from the Government

Jayden had Medicaid from birth until age 4. I didn’t apologize for it then and I won’t apologize for it now – I was still in high school, his dad worked as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut, and we didn’t have a lot of options. There was no way I was going to let my child go without medical treatment.

The second my ex got a job that offered insurance, we dropped the medical card immediately. Even though our income was low enough that we still qualified to keep it as a backup.

I’ll be honest – I was an asshole the day I walked in to announce that Jay didn’t need Medicaid anymore. After four years of being treated like trailer trash, I was so proud of us for beating the stereotypes. I was so excited that I would never again receive the dreaded appointment letter in the mail – the one that gave you a date, time, and a list of needed paperwork, and too bad if you couldn’t be there at that time because you’d lose your child’s coverage if you didn’t show up.

There are no words to adequately convey the shame I felt when I walked back into that building on Monday. My situation is so different now. I have a professional career, not to mention more education than the supervisor at the Medicaid office. For two years now, I have raised my son with very little help from my ex-husband, fought for his educational rights as a child with special needs, and worked my butt off to make sure he NEVER goes without.

Applying for government assistance felt like having “BAD MOTHER” tattooed on my forehead, even though I know I’m doing what’s best for him. That may not make sense, but that’s the way it feels. It’s horrible.

Even now, all the shoulds dance around in my brain. I should be able to afford to add him to my own insurance. I should be making too much money to qualify for Medicaid. I should have told that bitchy caseworker where she could stick her HIPAA notice and walked out.

But I can’t, I don’t, and I didn’t. Failure, failure, failure.

To Any Good Moms Out There Feeling Like Bad Moms

Hanging out in the personal finance community means I see a lot of opinions about things like food stamps and Medicaid. I know there is a lot of disdain for people who rely on the government to meet their needs. I’ve received hate mail (from readers, not other bloggers) calling me white trash, a welfare mom, and saying I should have my son taken away. And that’s before this post.

All I can say is that those people have never been in my shoes. They’ve never known what it’s like to do the very best you can to recover from mistakes, to make “good” choices and still end up on the bottom rung of the societal ladder. They don’t know what it’s like to struggle. And I hope they never have to.

If your kids receive Medicaid, you’ve probably had experiences like mine. You’ve been treated like less than a person and forced to wait in a room that reeks of body odor. You’ve been questioned about everything from the number of people in your household to why you do or don’t receive child support. Some of you may have been forced into establishing paternity when you really don’t want to, for reasons that are none of anyone’s business. All that before you even receive the card in the mail.

I just want to say to you – you aren’t alone. You ARE a person and you DO matter. You are taking care of your child even when your bank balance might make it seem impossible. You are doing the things that no one wants to do, not because you’re lazy and want to live off taxpayer dollars, but because you have no other choice.

No matter how far I go in life – and I have BIG plans, darn it – I will never forget these moments at the bottom. And I will NOT beat myself up, nor will I let anyone else. It’s not a crime to take care of your children. Please don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web designer and single mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!

Comments

  1. You did what was necessary to ensure your child is taken care of if he needs it.  You should be applauded and supported – not condemned – for your actions. Hopefully, your ex will find a new job soon & will be able to provide insurance again. Stand up and be proud of taking the difficult steps necessary to protect your son!

  2. Pick your head up. You are doing what you have to do to protect your family. No shame in that. I know it may sound cliche but your situation is different. Not only that you are working to improve your situation every single day. So Please keep your head up:)

  3. There is NOTHING wrong for using the tiny bit of a social safety net we have in the United States, in particular for something like medical care which can be hard/impossible to get especially as a person with special needs or a disability. You are a GOOD mom for making sure that your son is taken care of and healthy.

  4. What a terrible experience. I haven't experienced Government exactly like you have but I can relate in other ways. This reminds me of my journey through the immigration system. From Alien status to Naturlized American, I have sat in those rooms dozens of times for what seems like endless waiting, even though your scheduled appointment was confirmed in writing months earlier, and they had cashed the requisite check at the same time. Does Government really have to be so impersonal?

  5. At least you are doing what you need to do and recognize the fact that you don't want to be in that position for the rest of your life.  You are playing the hand you have been dealt to the best of your ability.  It is tough now, but your drive and desire will serve you well.

  6. I have definately been there. Its a horrible feeling. But it will make you stronger in the end. You were looking for a hand up not a hand out..

  7. I'm sorry that that case worker was so rude. No excuse for it. You did what any GOOD mother would have done, you fought for your child to have what he needs. There is no shame in getting help when you need it.

  8. It doesn't sound to me like you're a failure at all.  It sounds like you are putting yourself in an uncomfortable position because it's what is best for your child.  You're making sacrifices because it's what he needs.  You're putting him before yourself, which is much more than many parents do.  Sounds like a success story to me.

  9. Travis @DebtChronicl says:

    Subjecting yourself to that kind of experience in the name of doing what's best for your son makes you a fantastic mother.  You are the definition of someone doing everything within your power to make your own, and your son's life better. 

    You're an example to be looked up to, not down upon.

  10. Equinones86 says:

    I'm glad that I'm not alone in my experience with government agencies. When my daughter was a baby I had WIC and Medicaid. The people in the offices made me feel like crap. I told others and they said I was reading to much into it. I'm glad that in NJ you don't need to go in office for Medicaid anymore, a phone and computer works. You are a good mom. You're working hard, doing what you have to do to make sure your son is taken care of, even if that means taking a hit to your pride. Don't listen to anyone who tells you different.

  11. OK, so here's a question. How many years have you spent paying taxes so that other people could receive medicaid and EI and government aid, when you didn't need it yourself? Probably a lot, right? Now that you need a little leg up yourself, there is absolutely no shame whatsoever in taking it. This is what government aid exists for: To give people a leg up when they need it. Period. We've all been there, or close. We've all needed help. Just because the health care system is broken, and it's even possible to have a child that doesn't have insurance, doesn't mean you need to feel one ounce of bad for taking care of your family. 
    I'm so sorry you had to go through that. And that woman WAS a bitch. This should not be a low point for you, and I hate that clinic for making you think the simple action of taking care of your kid is somehow shameful.

  12. Kudos to you!! First and foremost you are a mom and your child's well being will always be more important than what others think or say.  I applaud and support you.  Your are working to make life better for you and your child and you are not taking advantage of anyone.  Hold your head high and if people have a problem with it then it is just that, their problem, not yours.  I pray things turn around for you soon.  As a single mom, I completely understand where you are at and where you want to go. 

  13. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I am a single mother (I adopted my child so no dad, no child support) with advanced terminal cancer and have been through the system, sometimes dealing with rude people, sometimes with really nice, helpful people. My strategy is to always try and put myself in the shoes of whoever is helping me. It's a pretty miserable job and showing kindness and consideration to them, however brusque they're being (which they never expect!) has done wonders. It sounds like this woman was very abrupt, but also very efficient. She got you your son's Medicaid very quickly! And remember: we are the only industrialized country in the world that makes its citizens have to go through this for simple health care. Of course you will feel bad. I feel bad and I'm dying, but at least it's there and she did do her job efficiently. Maybe she's also an overworked strugglijng single mom, or has elderly parents at home she's taking care of. Chances are she's dealing with her own problems too and may have been having an off day. You survived the system and lived to fight another day. You're a great mom! 

  14. You are resourceful, you are strong, you are a great Mom.  It is so unfortunate that you were put in a position where you had to apply for Medicaid, but it was what you had to do.  Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. This makes me angry on so many levels. Though most of us would hate to admit it, any one of us could be in that very same situation if things went south. Just know you are so much better than how a lowly, unhappy government worker wants to treat you, and you are a good mom.

  16. Pft! She's not worth your tears or heartache! Brush it off & move on, you did what you had to do! :)

  17. First, this is the best thing I've read in a long time.  Second, thanks for shedding some light into a program a lot of people don't know about first hand.   It's interesting to hear that they just schedule an appointment for you on a take it or don't basis.  I mean, if the goal is to provide temporary assistance to people who need it until things get better, why not try to at least work around their schedule?  I can't help but think many people miss work/miss employment opportunities because they're trying to take care of their needs now.  That's a real shame.

    • Also, any hate toward you or your family is misdirected.  Welfare is a proverbial drop in the bucket, but it's visible, so people know about it.  I can't believe people would suggest that you have your child taken from you. That's ridiculous.  No one can take better care of a child than their own parents. Like Jay-Z, I suggest you brush yo shoulders off and let it go.  ;)

  18. Don't beat yourself up. I received Medicare for my kids but i certainly haven't had the experience you've had with your caseworkers. Mine were actually friendly and willing to answer questions. I think if you look as a just for now thing till you get back on your feet nothing's wrong with that. I think people i.e. readers who send hate mail mistake though who actually need and use the system for it's intended purpose with those who just want to stay in the system forever!

  19. I'm honestly trying to figure out how someone can send you hate mail.  Do they not read?  I think that you did what you had to for your child.  You are ensuring that he has medical coverage and I really hope that people who wrote you hate mail are ashamed of themselves.  

  20. Wow, I can't believe you were treated like that. Good for you for pressing through.

  21. Echoing everyone else here- You are the BEST kind of mom. You put your own feelings, your fears, your insecurities, everything aside to do what was right for your son.
    You did what you had to do and you shouldn't let anyone, not even yourself, make you feel bad about taking the best possible care of your child.

  22. CommmonCents says:

    I can't say I have ever had to deal with anything like this, since everyone in ON has OHIP. But please don't beat yourself over what you had to do. I think that fact that you swallowed your pride and did what needed to be done for your son says a lot about your character as a person.

  23. AmericanDebtProject says:

    Excellent post.  Anyone who has had to deal with the "deputies" in life can relate to this post.  They're everywhere: in the Medicaid office, the college registrar's office, your HR people, who ever.  Seeing as how you are a great mom, writer and therapist, you WILL achieve your big plans.  We all struggle.  What will distinguish you is how you act when you are not the one on the bottom.

  24. I'm sorry that you had to go through that. And even though it's been said many times already in the comments, I'll say it again: you are a GREAT mother. Your son is lucky to have a parent who cares so much.

  25. It's your country's fault that you have to do this, not yours. I can't believe it's so humiliating to access basic healthcare (do they request an ID card to use public washrooms, too?). The other option was leaving your child without health coverage. You obviously made the right choice. 

  26. Nicole @ The Penny F says:

    I'm so sorry you encountered such nasty people. Reminds me of many trips to the DMV for car licenses/registrations. You did the right thing for your child, and that's all that matters.

  27. Don't beat yourself up for doing what you have to do. I've been on public assistance and it can be a humbling experience but it's never one to be ashamed of. I have never been treated with anything but respect. Is it possible that you were reading into things a bit? I got a feeling from this post that maybe you were using sterotypes and assuming that she was judging you with them. In this economy, so many people from so many walks of life need assistance, I'm fairly certain that most social workers are use to this.

    Keep your chin up and keep plugging forward!

    • I'll be honest. I can't believe you are asking me to defend my account of what I experienced. I feel like you're politely calling me a liar and it pisses me the fuck off. But whatever.

      I described exactly what happened when I went to the Medicaid office. If your caseworkers have always been sunshine and roses, that's wonderful. But mine wasn't. I did not read into things or make assumptions – I didn't attempt to interpret what she said or did, though I could have. I could come up with all kinds of possible motives for her behavior, but that wasn't the point of the post. I don't care why she acted the way she did. She did and it sucked.

      Please point out to me where I used stereotypes. I would love it if you did.

      I know I'm reacting like a total bitch, but after one humiliating experience this week, I'll be damned if someone insinuates that I'm crazy on top of it.

      • I'm not insinuating that you are crazy in any way Andrea. The first time I went in to apply, I thought everyone was staring at me and judging me. They weren't. Turns out I was judging them. So much of what you said in this email reminded me of how I felt the first time I went in and I didn't give anyone the benefit of the doubt. I just felt certain they were looking at me and judging me.

        I think your comment about feeling others in the lobby staring at your shirt and wondering what you were doing there is where I got the feeling of assuming sterotypes.  Like you were assuming that they were assuming. And it reminded me of what I went through.

        I'm not saying that your casework wasn't rude or that it didn't go down the way you said it did. I know that the process is frustrating to begin with and then to add in someone who clearly doesn't like her job and can't treat people with dignitity just makes it all the more difficult.

        I'm sorry that you've had to go through with this, you know I understand it first hand. And I wish that I hadn't upset you, for that I do apologize.

  28. 3under3mom says:

    I found your blog a couple of days ago, and I love it.  and I love this post.  I'm sorry that you had to go back into medicaid  My kids are on medicaid.  and I'm pretty sure if I have to go back on medicaid again when my husband is done with school, I will cry too.
    I give you props for making sure your kid has access to healthcare.  It sucks to have people look at you as a leech when you're doing everything you can.  

  29. I think it is commendable that you were able to put your pride aside and do the right thing for your child he is lucky to have a mom like you.  The safety net is there for a reason and reading this post left me wondering if my libertarian views might be too hardcore…

    Curious, did you judge (even though you tried not to) the others in the waiting room? 

    • Some of them, yes. Then again, I knew more than half of the people waiting, either personally or because they are former clients. So it was less judging them for being in the Medicaid office and more, "Her husband works at such and such place! How would they qualify for benefits? I wonder if they got divorced." So I don't really know how to classify that.
      Now, the pregnant woman next to me who smelled like she hadn't bathed in a month? You can bet I was thinking that poverty doesn't give someone an excuse not to keep themselves clean.

  30. Tarahknox485 says:

    DITTO DITTO DITTO
    its is a shame that those of us that DO make mistakes and WORK hard to overcome them are still considered a statistic and group with those that do NOT try to overcome the stereotype of being on assistance. It sucks to constantly be reminded of the mistakes you make. But at the end of the day you know that YOU made the right call. And when you wake up in the morning and those little eyes look at you like your his biggest hero you know you can conquer the world. and my girl YOU HAVE. Keep it up. Were in this together. its people like you and me that break the cycle and are showing our kids what hard work is and that you have to do something to BE SOMEBODY. even it its to a little person. You mean the world to him. and thats the ONLY opinion that matters.

  31. Weirdly, I've never interacted with social workers who were also hippies.  My mom's a social worker, and I think she's pretty normal!  And when I met with a social worker (going through a depression/anxiety streak) she seemed pretty normal :P

    As for the medicaid thing:  you did what you had to do.  This is what these programs are MEANT for.  You're not a welfare queen or whatever other horrible names people use.  Here's how you are different from the stereotypes:
    -You only use the system when you absolutely HAVE to (like in the past when you switched to your ex's insurance).
    -You're not using assistance to buy empty calories and crap food.  You're using assistance to cover your son in case he needs help.
    -You're not relying on the system, you're simply using it for the interim until you get yourself out.

    The stereotypes are usually that people take complete advantage of the system, finding loopholes to keep themselves happy without working.  THAT IS NOT YOU.  You work hard and make hard choices to do what needs to get done.

  32. I'm reading things backwards b/c I got behind but I have to tell you that your writing and your perspective is such that I just, seriously, get chills thinking about you taking a chance on going the freelance route. I really, honestly believe you are going to look back on this time as the turning point when you leaped and started flying. I'm sure it's scary as hell right now, but I'm so trying to encourage you that you are taking the right chance. 

    • Thank you, Jolyn. Your opinion is one I respect very much, so I'm going to hope you're right! I'm oddly calm right now – I am taking steps to get some things moving, but I feel okay about what I did. Which is weird for me.

  33. How sad it is that we live in a world where the very people who work for these 'helpful' government agencies and should be helping act like they are just doing a favour.
    Ever just want to say "Hey, if I wasn't this messed up you might not have a job!!"

  34. Donna Freedman says:

    I felt judged when getting prenatal care at the public health clinic. And I, too, get impatient with people's flippant comments about people who use food stamps et al. I wonder how many of them (a) were ever in desperate straits and (b) would actually prefer to starve rather than use such programs?
    It makes great rhetoric, but real life is different than that.

    • That's a huge thing for me – I think a lot of people have the attitude that they would NEVER do X or Y, but that's because they've never been in that situation. It's easy to make judgments when life is comfortable, but those people would likely sing a different tune if things suddenly got really bad for them.

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