By telling stories of uninsured, medical students hope Alabama will ‘rethink’ Medicaid coverageA, September 19, 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- A group of medical students influenced by the stories they have heard while volunteering at a free medical clinic have focused their concerns into action.

They formed a nonprofit, Rethink Coverage, and began going to the clinics to gather the stories of the uninsured.

They hope the stories will help shatter misperceptions.

"Our idea is to give a platform, a voice, to the uninsured, especially those caught in the Medicaid gap," said Ynhi Thai, a second-year medical student at the University of Alabama School of Medicine (in Birmingham) and co-founder of the group.

Thai is referring to the 191,000 Alabamians whose income levels are too high for Medicaid but too low to qualify for subsidies. Alabama is one of about 21 states declining Medicaid expansion from the federal government which would have covered that gap.

The group has collected 30 stories so far, such as:

The 41-year-old man with a Ph.D who had insurance until he lost his job as a military contractor. The effects of a serious car wreck and his work in Afghanistan have taken a physical toll. He has recently been approved for disability. "He was evaluated for, was approved as a candidate for surgery, but has been putting it off for years because he has not been able to afford it," wrote medical student Danielle Fincher, who interviewed him. He now provides security at a shelter and transitional home which covers room, board and $100 per month for groceries and medical care, she wrote.
The 45-year-old man who worked temp jobs and at a convenience store without insurance for years while his diabetes worsened. Now working as a forklift operator, he found an insurance plan and subsidies helped pay for it. But "because of the lack of continuity in medical treatment since 2000 until recently, he has been left with permanent damage to his vision and likely other organs," wrote medical student Swaroop Vitta, who interviewed him.
The 21-year-old aspiring NBA basketball player originally from Argentina who suffered an ankle injury that would require serious medical attention. "However, his father had just recently lost his job, which was the source of his insurance for both ....He suddenly found himself in the Medicaid gap," wrote medical student Jesse Ross, who interviewed him.
The woman who has been working self-employed in janitorial services for 22 years. She once had insurance through another job and tried to maintain premiums after her job was "phased out" but she couldn't afford it eventually . She canceled her insurance and now depends on free or scale-pay preventative healthcare from various resources such as Princeton, Cooper Green, Cahaba Valley Health Clinic, the Foundry, and the Christ Health Center in Birmingham, wrote Jennifer Feltman, who interviewed her.
The medical students formed Rethink Coverage as an independent group, not affiliated with UAB or the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

"A lot of patients have never been asked these questions before," said Danielle Fincher, a 26-year-old medical student from Huntsville. "We've had people who have just been thankful to tell their story."

Robertson Pearce, a 22-year-old medical student from Birmingham, said sometimes the students can help the patients with information about resources that they may not have known about. But he said many were savvy about what's available, and many knew already they didn't qualify for Medicaid or federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

"We want to tell these stories and show who these people are," Pearce said. "We've found a lot of the stereotypes are not true."

Ultimately, Thai, Pearce, Fincher and the dozen or so others in Rethink Coverage said they would like to get these stories out their in hopes that policymakers will take notice.

"The story is no good if it doesn't get out," Pearce said.

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