Utah's uninsured speak out for health care access

Published: Thursday, March 6 2014 6:05 p.m. MST

The senators began the presentation with a question: If you could offer health care to more people at a lower cost, would you?

"The issue of Medicaid, the poor, the uninsured and how we intend to deal with this is of huge public importance, and to us personally," Shiozawa, an emergency physician, told the crowd. "Since Medicare, we've never had a bigger opportunity to make an impact on the health care in this country."

The panel included Paul Gibbs, a lifelong Utahn who learned in 2008 that both his kidneys were failing and he required an expensive transplant if he hoped to live. Gibbs' friends in the theater community reacted immediately, raising more than $10,000, but it barely put a dent in the $79,000 he needed for the surgery.

"Even with the most amazing of support systems, I couldn't have the surgery without a miracle, and that miracle was called Medicaid," Gibbs said.

For five years, Medicaid has helped Gibbs pay for monthly medications — which cost the equivalent of a two-bedroom apartment — in order to keep his body from rejecting the kidney. The transplant gave Gibbs a chance at life, he said, allowing him to continue working, study at Salt Lake Community College, get married and serve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Starting in April, Gibbs will no longer require Medicaid to pay for his care.

"I made it," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. "A lot of people in this room don't have what I had. They don't have people raising the kind of money that was raised for me, and they don't have Medicaid. They deserve everything that I got. Everybody deserves the right to stay alive."

Gibbs says he hopes Utah legislators, leaders and residents can see past the perception that people asking for Medicaid are lazy or feel entitled. They just need help.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, mromero@deseretnews.com

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