When Asia Bijan-Thompson’s daughter was born 10 weeks premature, she was so tiny and fragile that she needed to stay in the neo-natal intensive care unit for an entire month. But in the midst of all the stress and uncertainty, there was one thing Asia didn’t have to worry about: health insurance.
“My daughter is alive today because of Medicaid,” said Asia, a RESULTS volunteer leader and Expert on Poverty, as she took the stage at the 2017 RESULTS International Conference.
Medicaid is a federal program that provides health insurance to nearly 70 million low-income people in the United States. But when the new administration and Congress came into power at the beginning of 2017, the program was immediately targeted for major cuts. As Asia told her story at the International Conference, a bill gutting Medicaid was headed for a vote in the Senate.
The threat was imminent — and personal. Asia didn’t want anyone — not her kids, not anyone else’s kids — to lose their ability to get the care they needed. People don’t always realize, she said, the astronomical costs associated with a single hospital stay. Without insurance, her newborn’s treatment would have added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was no way she could have paid for it.
“It’s unimaginable that anyone would have to weigh the life of their child against the cost of treatment,” Asia said. “I can’t advocate enough how important these programs are, and how important it is for us to strengthen and protect them.”
After months of calls, letters, and op-eds, Asia and hundreds of her fellow advocates descended on Capitol Hill during the International Conference to urge lawmakers to protect Medicaid. Their voices joined an outpouring of opposition from all over the country and the Senate bill ultimately failed.
But harmful new proposals continued to crop up, and Asia knew she had to keep fighting back. She not only continued her own advocacy, but she also wanted to help others like her share their stories and become advocates.
Working in conjunction with staff at RESULTS Educational Fund, she organized trainings in her state on storytelling, media, and advocacy techniques. She then supported trainees to submit letters-to-the-editor and set up meetings with their own members of Congress.
Altogether, Asia and other Experts on Poverty trained almost 300 new advocates.
Despite the barrage of threats, Medicaid is still providing health coverage for millions. Asia can focus on being a full-time law student and mom instead of worrying about how she’ll pay for doctor’s visits and vaccinations for her two kids. But as other anti-poverty programs continue to come under attack, she knows her work isn’t done.
“I’m an advocate because I know what it’s like to feel silenced and afraid to speak up for my needs,” Asia said. “I raise my voice to lead by example and to teach others that they can, too.”