I’ve been waiting for this day for over seven years

Members of Down Home NC celebrating with Governor Roy Cooper after the successful passage of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina

Photo: Down Home members celebrate Medicaid Expansion with Governor Roy Cooper. From left to right: Watauga’s Dana Bango, Person’s Kyle Warren-Love, Granville’s Alma Hawkins, Gov. Roy Cooper, Alamance’s Debbie Smith, and Co-Executive Director Todd Zimmer. 

 

By Dana Bango, Watauga County member of Down Home

 

I’ve waited for Medicaid Expansion for seven and a half years. Other North Carolinians have been waiting for five, 10, or even more years. It’s way past time but we finally made it. Thank you to everybody who’s been working this whole time. Special thanks to Christine Ashley from Down Home–our guide through all this. I feel like I have been late to the party; it was only seven and a half years for me without health insurance and I was lucky until six and a half years in. 

I was a working single parent who also cared for my elderly parents, both recent cancer survivors and one with advancing dementia. I fully realized during this situation that my life really has value–to others and to myself. It sometimes takes near death experiences to truly value life. I was angry at the thought of leaving my family and this Earth too soon.

Luckily, I found down home and through Down Home I found my voice.

Luckily, I’m still here to fight. 

Luckily, I had a free clinic in my rural county and I went to it regularly so that they found my cancer and were able to refer me to care down the mountain. 

I got my cancer taken care of, not without financial distress to the tune of $30,000, but I’m truly one of the lucky ones as I’m still here today. And by luck I mean fortune as well as the privilege of being born who I was, when I was, and where I was. 

I have always been a working class white female. My dad was a UAW member and autoworker for 43 years in Cleveland, Ohio. Our family was blessed with great health care benefits, a home, food, a great education and general prosperity. I took for granted how fortunate my upbringing was. I didn’t pick my good fortune from birth. We should all be so fortunate and have basic things like good health care from gestation onward at the bare minimum. Not just the lucky ones like me.

Fast forward to today in NC: 1,200-plus people a year have died over the past 10 years due to not having health care coverage. Others are dying because of discrimination or being underinsured, and care is increasingly unaffordable even for those who do have health insurance. 

It’s important we celebrate this day for these small, hard won victories and don’t lose sight of the goal of good healthcare for all. And hopefully there will be many more steps taken towards our goals after being the 40th out of 50 states to finally pass Medicaid expansion.

This expansion is tied to the NC state budget, and time is ticking. This expansion won’t go into effect until later this year or early next and meanwhile, we will lose more lives unnecessarily. We should be proud and we should celebrate this day all the while we fight for even more parity. We will change the system come hell or high water in time and with extended effort. This is our legacy and this is our responsibility.