The justified outrage over Mitt Romney's 47-percent remarks is beginning to subside, but his candid words remain an indelible reminder of how he views the world and might approach public policy. Dismissing people who feel "entitled" to health care is particularly telling and disturbing given that he and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, support turning the Medicaid program into state block grants -- a surefire way to dramatically slash needed spending on health care for children, the elderly and low-income adults.
I am a nurse at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and my patients are diverse. They are men and women aging faster and requiring more care than their checkbooks can keep up with. They are people whom life has dealt incredibly unfair blows in the form of illness or an accident. They are hardworking Pennsylvanians who just can't balance gas, electric and food bills and also pay for their health care.
My patients don't feel entitled. They are just dealing with the same reality faced by millions of others across this great nation.
Here are a few eye-openers about Medicaid and our health care system that Mitt Romney or any politician who aspires to elected office should understand:
• Medicaid covers nearly two-thirds of nursing home care for seniors -- seniors who have paid taxes the majority of their lives.
• Nearly half the nation's births are covered by Medicaid. Medicaid is a major source of preventive health care for children, too, covering immunizations and regular checkups during the critical early years. The nation needs its children to grow up healthy and strong to become successful and innovative adults.
• Medicaid funds at-home care for seniors and people with disabilities so they have a choice to remain in their homes.
• And the final thing that everyone should know: Medicaid provides care at a per-patient cost much lower than private health insurers.
It is estimated that 520,000 Pennsylvanians could gain health care under the Medicaid expansion provided for under the Affordable Care Act. Their care would be covered by the federal government at 100 percent of costs for the first three years, and then the commonwealth would start to pick up a share, increasing to 10 percent by the year 2020.
A few Republicans governors have refused this deal; Gov. Tom Corbett hasn't announced a decision yet. He should just say yes.
Basic health care coverage, and the preventive care that comes with it, costs less than episodic emergency room care. This is a commonsense way to provide high-quality health care for very low-income and vulnerable citizens -- instead of continuing to pass the cost of their care onto the middle class, hospitals and health care providers.
Health care is so much more than dollars and common sense, though. In my line of work, all these facts represent real people's lives.
I think of the daughter who has been able to move her mother to a nursing home so that she gets the care she needs. Thanks to Medicaid, she doesn't have to worry about trying to work while caring -- and paying for -- her mom on her own.
I see a father, whose son was diagnosed with hearing loss at 18 months. When his insurance wouldn't cover hearing aids, Medicaid stepped in.
And I see a woman born with Down syndrome hold down a job and play a vital part of our community because she receives the services and home care she needs, thanks to Medicaid.
A good nurse doesn't just mechanically provide textbook care to her patients. She has understanding and empathy for what they are going through and the root causes of their health problems. Similarly, a good politician running to represent 100 percent of the people should have some semblance of understanding of the daily lives of ordinary people, no matter his party affiliation or station in life.
Without that empathy and basic understanding, the working poor of our state are reduced to data points in charts, and we end up with sweeping policy proposals that would gut necessary programs while perpetuating harmful stereotypes about those who consider themselves "entitled."
The truth about Medicaid is that many of our children, our elderly parents and our friends and neighbors count on it to get the care they need.
Cathy Stoddart is a registered nurse and member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.