Medicaid spending has become one policy front among several in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget cuts, but the stakes are much higher for Lynette Pham.
Pham, 21, is a full-time University of Alaska Anchorage college student and one of about 210,000 Alaskans covered by Medicaid. She grew up in Dutch Harbor but moved to Anchorage to attend UAA.
She’s also had a chronic disease, rheumatoid arthritis, that was diagnosed when she was 4 years old.
"When you’re a kid, your joints aren’t supposed to hurt," Pham said. "And so, if I was kneeling down or trying to play with my friends, I couldn’t."
Pham controls her condition, including a diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder, with medication. Her parent’s insurance covered the costs until she turned 18, when she suddenly found herself with no insurance.
"I was at a loss at that time because I didn’t know where I could get insurance," she said.
"Basic needs like dental, vision, just general check-ups. And for two years I was out of medication," she said.
Pham said it made her time on campus more difficult. She had trouble getting around, as well as trouble concentrating or taking tests. That changed when she signed up for Medicaid and got back on medication.
"Without Medicaid, I wouldn’t be able to afford either medication," she said.
Dunleavy’s office says there is no proposal to eliminate Medicaid coverage for any specific population in Alaska, despite estimates from the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association that the budget would cut more than $200 million in state spending on the program.
Pham said Medicaid has helped her to stay in school and on track to get a degree in early education or even law.
"It’s a privilege that it’s given to us," she said. "I’m afraid if it gets taken away, I’ll have to quit school and work full-time to take care of my body first and my future later."
Pham said she hopes to graduate with a degree that will provide her with a good job in Alaska that includes health benefits, but for now, she’s glad that Medicaid is there.
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