I started to draft a blog with a bunch of statistics about how critical Medicaid is to West Virginia.  Chances are that if you are reading this West Virginians for Affordable Health Care blog, you are familiar with a least some of these stats already.


In West Virginia, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) save lives.  These hybrid public-private health insurance programs that are run by the state provide affordable access to health care for more than 550,000 West Virginians.  These programs help us to take care of ourselves with regular check-ups.  It is how we can afford to see a doctor when we are sick, go to the hospital when it is needed, and take care of our elders when they need long-term care.  Medicaid provides health care access for:

1 in 4 adults under age 65
3 in 5 low-income adults
1 in 2 children
3 in 4 nursing home residents
1 in 2 people with disabilities

There are lots more data nuggets about Medicaid as a lifeline for our West Virginia family, friends, and neighbors.  

And I am guessing you probably already know that Medicaid is a federal and state financial partnership, and that Medicaid state spending is matched by federal dollars. Our state – because we are poor relative to other states – gets about $3 of federal funds for every state $1 we spend on Medicaid. That generates new business activity, which in turn generates new state tax revenue, and creates jobs.

These are all good reasons to celebrate Medicaid.  But that’s not what I want to share with you today.

For many of us who work together at West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, this ongoing effort to preserve and strengthen Medicaid is very personal.

So let me share with you a story about a buddy of mine.

My buddy likes to throw rocks in the creek and see a big splash.  He loves to ride the big green John Deere tractor in the hay fields with his daddy and grandpa.  

My buddy is a happy, healthy, beautiful three-year old.  He is growing every day.

But this little guy had a rough start in life.  He was born a preemie – a premature infant – at only 24 weeks. Infants born this premature have a survival rate that is between 60 and 70 percent.  About 40 percent of these preemies will suffer long-term health complications because they were born prematurely. Early intervention and intensive care can raise these odds in favor of the infant.

My buddy spent almost a year in the hospital after his birth; much of that year was in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  When he did come home, he needed special oxygen monitoring and delivery equipment as well as other special equipment.  He had to have laser surgery for retinopathy prematurity (read about this condition here). He has a “NICU button” so that he can be feed through a hole directly into his stomach.

With all that said, today he is doing great and thriving.  And cute as a button.

His mom is amazing.  She, of course, had a hard time herself.  The premature birth was caused by pre-eclampsia that could have easily killed her.  

After her own recovery, she spent long days (and nights) at the hospital with her son.  He needed to be held and loved; she needed to learn how to care for him and be comfortable with the responsibility of taking care of his special needs at home.

Even after he came home, there were a few crises with the oxygen.  

The last thing that my buddy and his Mom needed was added stress.  The stress of the medical condition and care was tremendous, but Mom met the challenge.  But the last thing she needed was to also have to worry about huge medical bills.

And don’t think Mom wouldn’t have tried her best to pay those bills.  Mom worked before my buddy’s arrival, and she still works today.  She works hard at a physically demanding job that doesn’t pay much more than minimum wage.  Overall, she says she likes her job and working.  And there are bills to be paid – rent, utilities, car payments – and groceries to buy.  And all the needs of a growing toddler can be expensive.

Thanks to Medicaid and CHIP, my buddy got the best possible care from a fantastic team of health care providers at the Winchester Hospital Center in Virginia and at the West Virginia University Ruby Memorial Hospital.  Without his Mom facing devastating medical debt for the rest of her life.

And she was able to focus on taking care of her wonderful son.

In my mind, my buddy is a Medicaid miracle.  

And I am forever and enormously grateful that Medicaid was “born” in our country back 56 years ago.