Health: Time to Close the Gap

Testimony of  Chelle Gluch before the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Health Care

There remains still, after many years of discussion, an attitude that perplexes and troubles me about people caught in the gap. It is the attitude that if those in the gap just worked a little harder they could and would succeed—if you are poor it is your fault.

Perhaps, some of this blame lies in the stories we have presented to you. I know that I have focused on the suffering my family and I have experienced. Perhaps what I should have told you is how I am trying to help my family escape poverty. Have I told you that for the last 15 years, I struggled through undergrad and graduate school after 14 hour work days that often involved caring for my chronically ill husband, because I believe that an education will lead my family into the light of prosperity and hope? Did you know I will graduate this December and hope to teach high school and college English?

Perhaps, I should have told you the story of my friend Cohen. Cohen is a single father and disabled. He qualifies for disability. But he strives to make his daughter’s life better than that. Cohen works for a small construction company that offers no coverage. His wage is dependent upon what work is available though he does side work whenever possible. This summer he broke his foot. He refused to go to the doctor—a cast would have been cause for his employer to lay him off AND a doctor’s bill would eventually be garnished from his wages preventing him from paying the mortgage that keeps a roof over his daughter’s head. For sixteen weeks he went to work with his foot swollen three times its normal size and often the swelling went clear up to his knee. But he kept working.

Maybe, I should have shared the story of my friend Beatrice. Beatrice is currently finishing up her PhD. Beatrice is also the mother of two autistic children and the wife of a severe diabetic. Beatrice has clawed her way through graduate school, teaching and learning while caring for the medical needs of her family. Beatrice also recognized that to care for her families very special needs long term she’d have to get an education. Beatrice is now teaching as adjunct faculty. She is brilliant, but is working for extremely low wages and no benefits while searching for that tenure track positon that will provide for her family. Beatrice’s husband recently underwent surgery to remove a large section of his foot due to his diabetes. The bills are astronomical. The time she has spent away from her new job to care for him scares her—without that job her family would be homeless in two weeks. No matter the obstacles, she has kept working.

Have I told you about my friend John? John is a single father and like Cohen he works in construction at a small firm that offers no insurance. John has two young boys. John’s wages are decent but he still struggles, alone with two kids. He does not qualify for assistance but he could not survive one medical emergency for either the boys or himself. To solve his problem, John re-enlisted in the Reserves. This will cover his need for medical care coverage but creates a whole host of other problems for a single father—to whom does he give custody while he is away, will his absence hurt his children emotionally, socially, educationally? But no matter the problems, he’s going. He has no alternatives.

You have an idea of us that is wrong. We are dealing with incredibly difficult circumstances that have long reaching effects every day, and we are all doing what we can to manage and find our way out of those circumstances. We are fighters. We are tough. I’ve spent years standing before you asking for your help and compassion, when perhaps I should have been showing you the strength, determination and endurance that each of these people has shown in face of great adversity because, in every way, we are Idaho too.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *