Eleta Pierce’s 9-year-old son, Christopher, handed his mother about $14 – all of his allowance money.
Christopher had jammed his finger, and Pierce was concerned it was broken, but she was also worried about how to pay for the doctor visit and tests because her family lacks health insurance.
But stressing out over treating bumps and breaks will soon be a thing of the past for Pierce and her children.
Beginning on Jan. 1, they will have coverage through Minnesota’s Medicaid program as part of an expansion the state passed last session to fully implement the federal health care reform law.
Christopher’s injury — his finger turned out not to be broken — came about a week after his sister had to go to a clinic to get treated for strep throat in mid-November. Pierce and her boyfriend had already gone through the worry of wondering how to pay to treat their 7-year-old daughter’s illness, and now they had to cover X-Rays and other tests for their son.
Christopher picked up on the fear.
“He was really worried that he wouldn’t be able to go to the doctor,” Pierce said during an interview. “I didn’t realize that until he came and gave me all of his money from his piggy bank, and he said, ‘Here, this is for you, Mom.’ ”
She asked him what the money was for. His reply: “So that you can put this toward X-rays for my finger.”
“I gave it back to him and said, ‘You guys don’t have to worry about those kinds of things. You let Mom and Dad worry about that,’” Pierce said. “I’m an emotional person.”
Pierce is still waiting for the bill to reach her St. Paul home.
She is no stranger to public health programs. She’s been on and off MinnesotaCare, a program for working low-income people, for years as her circumstances have changed, and she’s danced around the income limit.
Pierce last had insurance through MinnesotaCare for herself in August, but an annual renewal found that she earned too much money working at a church in South St. Paul to continue on the program. Her three children got dropped in September when she couldn’t afford to keep up with their premiums.
“Despair. Definitely despair, and more so worried about the kids,” Pierce said she felt then when she got the letter telling her she was off the program yet another time. “I know I teared up and cried, and just thought, ‘Here we go again.’ ”
Pierce’s boyfriend, Zarrick Humphrey, has insurance through his work, and they considered adding their shared son, Zack, to his plan, but it was just too expensive.
So they’ve been making do until the Affordable Care Act kicks in on Jan. 1. Pierce said she’s happy everyone in her family has been relatively healthy so far. But she’s also forgone care herself.
Pierce has a gash just above her right eye from getting hit in the face with a toy.
“I maybe should’ve went to the doctor to see if I needed stitches or something, but without the insurance and it being a Saturday night, I didn’t want to incur the costs of an emergency room visit so I took care of it myself,” she said.
Much of the worry and fear eased when she signed onto the MNsure website in late October and pushed through the application process, bugs and all. When the system informed Pierce that she and her children are eligible for Medicaid with no premium payments, she sighed with relief and ran to her boyfriend’s “man cave” to tell him the good news.
“I am looking forward to having health coverage again, because I do bring the kids in for shots whenever they’re required and [I have] myself annually examined,” Pierce said. “It helps ease your mind when you know that that part of your life is covered.”
“To me, it’s a big deal.”