There’s little doubt that this school is home to scores of profoundly wealthy students. Admittedly, I’m one of the many on this campus who find themselves habitually decrying Emory as a bastion of Northeastern privilege; however, these blind generalizations obscure the economic realities of our student body, and they erase the everyday struggles that thousands of our peers face. Food insecurity persists among our classmates, largely unacknowledged by students and administrators alike. Friends regularly forgo social opportunities, which too often revolve around restaurants, pricy cross-town Ubers and $10 drinks. Roughly 20 percent of Emory undergraduates receive federal Pell Grants — an exceptionally high proportion for a private institution. It suffices to say, not everyone is having an easy go.
We can do more for these students, and that starts with voting in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. Control of the U.S. House and Senate hang in the balance, and here in Georgia, we have a deadlocked gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp. Every poll released since February has pegged this race as a statistical tie, which means a Democrat could be poised to win the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1998. Plenty is at stake, from marijuana decriminalization to tuition-free public college, but perhaps most importantly, Abrams has vowed to expand Medicaid — that matters to Emory students.
Medicaid is the country’s single-largest insurer, covering 76 million low-income families, children and people with disabilities through a government-run program. Medicaid is funded almost entirely by federal dollars, but it is administered at the state level, giving governors wide latitude to determine eligibility. Georgia has some of the most austere eligibility standards in the country, refusing coverage to the vast majority of those living under the poverty line. The state fell even further behind the curve when the Republican-controlled state house refused federal money to expand the program after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Abrams has been explicit: standing idly by while poverty persists is immoral, and doing so abrogates the fundamental duties of a public servant. She’s made clear that her first priority will be to expand Medicaid, extending comprehensive health coverage to an additional 500,000 Georgians and drawing down $3 billion in annual federal funding.
For our friends and peers who live financially independent from their family, Medicaid expansion could be the difference between scraping by and living comfortably as a student. The Emory Student Health Insurance Plan simply doesn’t cut it. Not only does it bear a $3,500 per year premium, but 10 percent co-pays add up quickly when the plan carries an out-of-pocket maximum of $6,850 for in-network care. For out-of-network care, there is no cap. I’ve met far too many people who have avoided seeking mental health care, even in their darkest hours, because they knew they’d struggle to shoulder the cost. I’ve watched in horror as friends take on multiple part-time jobs, on top of a full course load, to pay for procedures as routine as wisdom tooth extraction. I witness others turn to GoFundMe to pay down catastrophic medical expenses, leaving their fate up the benevolence of strangers. In our perverse health care system, where the promise of profit prompts decision-makers to turn a blind eye to human dignity, cases like these aren’t a bug — they’re a feature. It doesn’t have to be that way.
None of us can predict when catastrophe will strike. But we do have the power to collectively ensure that when it does, nobody is left to pick up the pieces on their own, or is forced to sacrifice necessities to pay down their medical bills. For students, the Emory plan does little to protect against crushing medical debt, which too often compounds upon already massive student loans.
Medicaid ensures that no one teetering on the edge of bankruptcy gets pushed over by an unexpected illness. Additionally, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute projects that expansion would create an additional 56,000 in-state health care jobs, reverse Georgia’s ongoing rural hospital closure crisis and give more people access to essential addiction and mental health services. Every day that we delay expansion, we relinquish $8 million in free federal cash.
Abrams is the only candidate in this race that supports Medicaid expansion. On the contrary, Kemp has touted a health care plan aimed at “lowering insurance costs, ensuring access to quality care … and covering Georgians with pre-existing conditions.” It would do none of these things, and would only take us backward in the fight for health justice. This “plan” is little more than a list of vague and meaningless bullet points; though in Kemp’s defense, it does offer a handful of more-concrete proposals to spike premiums for the sickest patients, expand access to junk insurance, and gut consumer protections. Kemp has tossed around the same anemic talking points that Congressional Republicans parroted during their failed crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pledging to expand association health plans and obtain a federal 1332 “State Innovation Waiver” for Georgia. These platitudes about “expanding consumer choice” and “incentivizing innovation” are worth their weight in manure. They are nothing but thin veneers obscuring the craven reality of mainstream conservative health care proposals: if you have a pre-existing condition, you’re getting left behind.
This election is a test of our character as a state, and as a people. The best summation I’ve seen thus far came from a union bricklayer in Wisconsin, interviewed for a piece in The Atlantic: “If we can’t help each other, what are we, a pack of wolves — we eat the weakest one?” This election is about basic empathy. We can choose to follow our most fundamental human impulse — the instinct to care for our most vulnerable — or we can choose to be wolves. A more humane future is well within reach, but only if we rouse righteous indignation from injustice, bring that passion to the voting booth and to our neighborhoods and elect Stacey Yvonne Abrams to be the next governor of Georgia.
Matthew Ribel (19C) is from Chantilly, Va.