The Recent College Graduate Who Can Breathe Thanks to Medicaid

Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Fusion/GMG, photos via Cody Ryan

The Senate version of the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, like the House version before it, is a cruel piece of legislation. It is projected to force 22 million people off their insurance. It offers smaller subsidies for worse coverage. It hands a massive tax cut to wealthy people who already don’t pay enough in taxes.

It also aims to cut Medicaid by $772 billion over ten years, and introduces spending caps to limit coverage for those who aren’t kicked off the program outright. Of all the provisions contained in the bill, the changes to Medicaid are the most sweeping and catastrophic.


In 2015, 97 million people received health coverage through Medicaid. Nearly half of them were children. These are the people who will lose coverage, or see it weakened or capped, if the bill goes through as written. These are the stories behind those numbers.

Cody Ryan, 24, Delaware

We grew up poor so you didn’t go to the doctor unless you were dying. I didn’t go to the dentist until the day of my junior prom because that’s just not a thing we could ever afford. I remember feeling so fancy. Like, I’m going to junior prom with clean teeth. I was lucky to get by so long without needing braces or glasses or anything. Not sure those would have made it into the budget considering I did my homework on other people’s computers that could actually afford the internet.

My father is a proud man. Probably too proud. He was a carpenter during the financial crisis and at some point the work dried up. He would do any kind of work—jobs that shouldn’t have been one-man jobs, jobs that were a little on the dangerous side. The kind of work where you can fall through the roof, break a few ribs, puncture your lungs, and catch pneumonia.

I remember him lying on the couch with no ability to move even to get to the bathroom. I was watching him die. Eventually, the family dragged him to the hospital. He almost died with a fever over 104. He was there for about a week while I stayed at my uncle’s.


My father lived, but with the bills he racked up he might have been better off dead. I think at that point he realized he couldn’t be proud anymore. He had to cover himself and his son. The funny thing is once we got on Medicaid, we made sure to do the exact opposite of how we were raised. We made sure to go get checked for everything. You could say we were taking advantage of the system but we knew the reality—it could be gone any day.

As a kid you don’t realize what healthcare is, you probably think everyone has it. I remember seeing the doctor as a kid, maybe when I was six, and not seeing him again for such a long time. There was this huge gap until we got on Medicaid.


When I got on Medicaid, we finally went to the doctor for the sinus problems I had through high school. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After rounds and rounds of antibiotics, I went to an ear, nose, and throat doctor who told me I had some of the worst backed up sinuses he had seen in almost 30 plus years. I had an expensive surgery we could never afford on our own, and I could breathe again. The idea that my government wouldn’t allow some other kid to breathe makes me want to cry. I once spit blood and mucus into my hand during an exam and told no one just so I could finish. Don’t call me lazy and entitled.

The rest of high school went well and I headed off to college. That’s when we had a hiccup. My dad was reapplying and put that I did not live at home, which was technically correct because I lived in a dorm. This small clerical error took away my healthcare. We went to the doctor for a check up and they asked for $80, told me that I didn’t have insurance anymore. We walked out embarrassed. I was supposed to have healthcare.


So I had to apply for my own Medicaid. They also reduced our food stamps to a one person household, since I technically wasn’t living at home anymore, which was not enough food for both of us as my dad was still bringing me groceries at school.

People always talk about those abusing the system but never those who get denied by it. I remember those days. How many kids my age were walking to the state welfare office to get health insurance? How many of them sat through classes while almost passing out because that’s just the way things are handled when you are poor?


But I am not embarrassed or ashamed. I needed help. I was just a kid. I was fighting hard for my future. I didn’t want to live off someone. I just wanted a fighting chance. I got it, and now I pay taxes. I hope goes to help others.

It doesn’t. My dad is losing his Obamacare. His pills to breathe are $600 a month. I know what he is going through and it is ridiculous to me that people can paint us as some kind of heathens. Everyone deserves to breathe.


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