Wearing fake grass skirts and plastic leis, health advocates took turns going under a limbo pole in front of House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart’s office Wednesday. The idea was to highlight the plight of Utahns who fall into the Medicaid coverage gap, and the pole was steadily lowered to represent each month this year that they have not been able to pay for healthcare. The mood was light, but Christine Stenquist quickly became emotional when she began talking about why she is taking part in this demonstration.
“You’re always one hospital visit away from being at bankruptcy, and I’m seeing it firsthand,” Stenquist says. She’s taken a 23-year-old woman into her home whose serious digestive problems have landed her in the Emergency Room, but she says she can’t afford health insurance on the money she makes as a waitress.
“How on earth are you supposed to make a start when you’ve got health issues and you’re working at a job that makes $2.13 an hour?” Stenquist says as she begins to cry. “You’re constantly sick, and there’s nothing for you?” She says she wants to see lawmakers find a way to expand Medicaid to cover 57,000 Utahns under the poverty line. “I see and hear what’s gone on at the Capitol this past session that Representative Lockhart wouldn’t expand, and I’m watching this poor girl suffer in my home. That’s why I’m here.”
House Speaker Becky Lockhart has said she doesn’t support an expansion of Medicaid, but that the legislature is continuing to work on the issue with a task force meeting monthly. Lockhart says lawmakers may come to a decision this fall or possibly next year.
“What we’re doing is what we do best which is to make a good decision and take the time and effort to make the right decision,” Lockhart says.
“We can’t wait until next year,” Stenquist says. “Asking somebody to wait for healthcare, it’s just not right.” She says she wants to see Lockhart support Governor Gary Herbert’s plan to use Medicaid funds to help low income Utahns buy insurance on the private market.