My Story: A Slippery Slope

From one of our members, Mary Einspahr:

I didn’t grow up in poverty. Growing up my dad worked a stable job at a major corporation. We lived in a nice house. We took family vacations. We never had to worry about having enough to eat.

However, I fell into poverty at the ripe age of 23.

Last winter, my health insurance wouldn’t cover my medical needs and it was about to expire anyway. I found myself broke, without adequate health care, and forced to quit school due to a chronic health condition. It wasn’t until I applied for MNsure and was granted Medical Assistance that I began to receive adequate, affordable health care. Through Medical Assistance, Minnesota’s Medicaid program, I was able to attend outpatient treatments for addiction, which I still attend to this day. MNsure saved my life; I’m now over one year sober and in a much better place. My Medical Assistance fully covers my health care needs; in addition to treatment, it covers my doctor visits and covered three ER trips after a bike accident last April.

While I’m grateful for my affordable health plan, this is not a perfect system. In order to keep Medical Assistance, I have to stay below the poverty line, which means earning less than $15,000 a year. I’ve estimated that in order for me to afford MNCare, the public plan for one income bracket higher or $15,000 to $35,000 a year, I’d have to work two to three part time jobs for at least 50 hours a week. Being that I suffer from a pretty debilitating chronic illness, it would be really hard to manage more than one job, and could put my health at serious risk. I’ve tried looking for one full time job, but those are hard to come by without a college degree. I’m finding that I’m hitting a lot of walls because I have not graduated college yet and now I’m too poor to go back, at least for now. So I’m stuck in a cycle of keeping myself in poverty so I can keep myself healthy, without much hope.

I didn’t grow up in poverty, but I live in it now. Being stuck in this cycle has meant I’ve worked a variety of low-wage jobs. And on top of the low wages, few, if any, benefits, make it even harder to make ends meet and survive. It’s next to impossible to get by on just 28 hours a week, even making $1.50 over our new minimum wage. In January I got really sick for five days. I was so sick there was no way for me to make it into work. Because I do not get earned sick and safe time, I had to go without pay for almost a week. As a result of this decision, I spent a good chunk of the next pay period hungry.

I need earned sick and safe time, because I should not have to choose between going to work sick and feeding myself. And I need access to health care that will cover me even when I’m not in poverty so that I can go to work and contribute to my community. We shouldn’t have to choose.