Celeste Ford, Mullins

In the following interview, we spoke with Celeste Ford - a mother from Marion County - about her health care story and how the program has helped her and her kids.

Hello Celeste! Thanks so much for speaking with us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, my name is Celeste, I'm 39 years old from the Pee Dee area, Mullins to be exact. I'm a mother of four. Single parent as of right now, I'm not working. But I worked for Walmart for seven years. Until I got health issues. I was diagnosed with lupus and sarcoidosis.

How long have you been on Medicaid?
I been on it since 2012. Because, when I... once I had that child. I had a bunch of them right back-to-back, so I stayed on Medicaid. But like, when I had my first child, I was 19. I was on it while I was pregnant. They didn't even cover my post-op visit after I had her. And when I went to get checked, I thought it was covered. It was sending me a bill. So, they kicked me off really soon. But my experience with when I had my last four kids I've been on Medicaid. They changed it. Because before if you was on Medicaid, you just got family planning. And if something was wrong, like if you birth control and a pap smear and if it came back irregular or something, and you didn't have health insurance, you just like I went years I always had an irregular pap smear and I went years until 2012. Before I found out what it was actually, why: it was because I couldn't afford to. I didn't have health insurance because I did private home health care before I started at Walmart, so I basically worked for myself. But even though I made too much at the time, I had one child I made too much money to qualify for benefits, but not enough money to take care of me and my child and afford health insurance because it's expensive. It's expensive. Luckily, my child she stayed on. She stayed on Medicaid, so I didn't have to worry about her but as far as me. Like eye exams, I wear glasses, contacts, all that's out of pocket. When I got sick. I had to pay that out of pocket, but it was crazy.

Can you talk a little bit more about that time that you've had to experience that?
When my daughter was little, I know she's on Medicaid. I don't know what it was, she had got really sick. But I just know that the medicine that she needed wasn't covered by Medicaid, but this was like the early 2000s. I don't even remember what it was, but I remember having to pay so much money for her medicine and the medicine made her sick. She had an allergic reaction. All of her hair fell out, she had rashes all over her skin, it took her years to heal from that. But I just remember that as a point in a sense. So in 2012 I became pregnant. I got on Medicaid after I had my son, I started working at Walmart in 2013. I stayed on Medicaid because like six months later I was pregnant again, and then had another child but, Walmart in the beginning if you were part time you wasn't allowed to get health care. We had no benefits, so I just had Medicaid but as time went on, they changed it up. If you worked so many hours, you could get health insurance, so I did. I got my own health insurance for myself, took it out my check, I didn't see it so I wasn't missing it but I do know to add kids on to that it would have extremely boosted it up so I couldn't. They stayed on Medicaid. And I was also on Medicaid too, but I hate when people be like: "oh you're on Medicaid." Yes, I was on Medicaid, but I had my own insurance too. And I pay taxes just like everybody else, you know they try to make you feel bad. I pay my taxes I work I just wasn't like just sitting around not doing anything, I actually need it and like as of now I'm not working. I thank God for Medicaid. I'm not working now. I have lupus. I have sarcoidosis. I take a lot of medicine; I have to take a lot of medicine. If I didn't have Medicaid, I would be so out of luck like because there's no way I can afford health issues. I tried to look to find health insurance and the prices are ridiculous.

Do you worry about losing coverage? Either for yourself or for your children?
Yes. Yes, I do.  You can't afford that medicine, it's ridiculous. It's high. It's overpriced. And it's just crazy. And God forbid you have a child that is actually sick, sick, thank goodness, my kids are overall healthy, they don't have to take medicine and stuff. But how are you supposed to take care of your kid if they take you off, or kids off Medicaid, because you making too much money, which the truth is that it's no money at all. That's no money, you can't even, that's basically you got to be working part time. If you're grown, a grown person with bills, mortgage, lights, rent, car payment, car insurance, you can’t live making that type of money. You can't, you're gonna, you're not going to have a car and you have to have car insurance, you're gonna work paycheck to paycheck, you're gonna have to get on food stamps to feed your kids. And it's just, it's just crazy.

So, you said you are worried about losing coverage. Can you talk about why you're worried?
For me, trying to get disability, but like I was previously saying I'm not working. So, if I lose my medical coverage, I take three prescriptions for my lupus, two for my sarcoidosis, I have an inhaler, I have all this mess. And if Medicaid is not paying for it, I only have to pay out of pocket like $12 a month. So, if that's taken away from me, that means all this medicine that I'm required to take on a daily basis just to keep me healthy enough to take care of my kids and be there for them. I'm not gonna be able to afford to get that I'm not gonna be able to. I'm not, I'm just not. And that's scary. To think about that, you know, and other people be like oh get insurance, get a job. Okay, I understand that. I worked my whole life. I worked until I got sick. I've been working since I was- my first job was at McDonald's. I was 15. It's just not like I just don't want to work. I am worker I am willing to work. But when it comes to like health issues and stuff. I worked up until I became sick. And I'm not able to work like I used to work. So, I have to find, if I'm gonna get a job, I have to find a job that I'm able to work. I can't do a lot of walking. I can't do a lot of you know; what I'm saying I have to find a job that caters to me. And sometimes it's hard and then when they find out that you sick and I be out at my last job, I'd be out. I get sick, I have to stay out, I have flare ups, and I go to the hospital. People really don't want to hire you like that because they don't know like, she good now but maybe six months down the line she might have a flare up and you're in hospital, she's sick and can't go to work. You gotta call out, and then they gotta you know pay for it. And they don't want to do that. So, it's hard so it's not like I don't want to work or not trying to work but it's hard. It's hard.

Can you talk a little bit about like some community stigmas around Medicaid?
I just know people like, they love to judge people who're on food stamps or Medicaid. They think people should take care of themselves, I understand all of that I worked, I was a hard worker. Me and Janie both worked at Walmart. They don't pay you enough for it. If they pay for it, then they take your hours away. And it's like oh you can get a better job, oh that sounds good to get a better job. And then it's like oh you should have went to school, for what? Yeah, I could have, but everybody I know in school, they got these diplomas and owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans that you got to pay back, and most of them not even working in that field that they went to school for. It's like I know so many college degreed students at Walmart. So, if you work and make the same thing, I'm making but now you tens and hundreds thousand dollars in debt. Like, that's crazy. And then you want to judge people for you know, what I'm saying? I just find it crazy.

Is that something you hear a lot here in the community? Regardless of their people you know who shares their experiences and they still don't understand.
There are a lot of people who feel that way. They choose not to understand it's common sense like, they just feel that oh, you get a better job but where we're at there's not a lot of high paying jobs. Walmart is one of the better paying jobs and that's only out. You go get a job at Dollar tree or Dollar General. Dollar Tree is starting you off at seven dollars and twenty-five cents. Seven dollars and twenty-five cents. Seven dollars and twenty-five cents. You going to start a grown person off with that? But, if that's all you got, everybody doesn't have transportation to get a decent job to make money. You at least got to go to Florence to live around here. There's just not that many. It's just not jobs like that here so you would have to have transportation to get there. But if you don't have transportation, you got to get what you can get. Anything is better than nothing and around here, there's not that. Like I say, I think Walmart is about the highest paying job around here, and that's $13 an hour. Everywhere else is below that.

Have you lived here all your life?
I lived in the Pee Dee, well, I've been in the Pee Dee area most of my life, but I've been in Mullins for a long time. I moved here in '04. Yeah. Because that's when I started my home health career. And I had got a job over here. And I was making very good money. That was when I was 20, when I came here. So yeah, and I did that work for years. But after a while, that takes a toll on you too.

What challenges have you experienced with the Medicaid program if any?
As of now not really any challenges. Like I said before they changed it, I'm not sure. It might have been when Obama come you know, like before, if you made little money, like you could not get Medicaid just family planning. And all you could do is get a yearly checkup and contraceptives and that's it. What I'm saying is, what if- say you get a checkup and it's irregular? Like I was I was 19, getting irregular pap smears I'm like, then it's like, oh, no, we don't pay for this you got to pay out of pocket. Well, I'm like I can't pay for that. So, I just went living my life for years. And I didn't find out till the next time I was able to get Medicaid, which was when I was pregnant in 2012. And that's when they did the test like, “oh, this is what you have.” Okay, well, that's good to know. You know, it could have been something serious. Like it could have been, it could have been cancer or anything and not knowing, you just living with it, and you could have you know, yeah, so but it's not like well, it's not like that's my daughter next, when she turns 21, she works for Walmart now. So, she'll have to get her some Walmart insurance for herself because you're gonna have to need that health insurance. Anything can happen, anything.

Can you share a little bit about your children? How has Medicaid helped with their care?
I wouldn't be able to afford to take them to the doctor. I just... I had a child that passed away. I had a son who died at six months, and after he passed away, I was paranoid. Like my kids could sneeze, I'm sorry. They're going to the doctor, because he was a perfectly healthy child. He died in his sleep at six months, and it really messed with me, so I was, I don't play. If I feel like my kids are not good to be able to- you know if I'm worried about my kids, I have to take them to the doctor. I don't have to worry about: “Oh, I don't know, we just pray nothing wrong, because I don't have the money to pay to take them to the doctor or what not.” I probably overdid it, but I was scared, my kids didn't sleep peacefully for years because I would shake them in, they sleep to make sure they good. I just was that paranoid because it was it was a lot and after that I became- so I'm one of those parents, that if they feel a little bit too hot, or if they coughing or sneezing most people will be like: “Oh they're fine.” I don't know that. I had a perfectly fine child and see what happened, so it just feels good that I'm able to do that. If I didn't have Medicaid, I wouldn't have to do that. I probably would have been worrying myself crazy thinking about what if's you know. We love to Google stuff and looking up symptoms and if you Google everything, you’re gonna die. Everything is life threatening. I would have lost my mind. You go crazy trying to you know, if you weren't able to go [to the doctor]. If I wasn't able to do that, you know, just trying to figure it out myself. I would have probably lost my mind, so it's a comfort to know that Medicaid is there for my kids if something is wrong. I can take them to the doctor.

So, what would you say to State Leaders about Medicaid expansion? Like why is it important?
Because South Carolina is, especially like Upstate, is more of a flourishing part of South Carolina. Like but the rural areas, the Pee Dee areas and stuff. There are not a lot of jobs and moneymakers. We don't make the type of money they make upstate. And there's a lot of us, we trying the best we can. And it's not it's not enough. They don't want to pay you enough, they don't.  You're going to the job, killing yourself making seven dollars and twenty-five cents. You can't afford health insurance, get health insurance, you shouldn't have to choose between your child's health, and somewhere to live or transportation to get around, or the lights going off, or you know staying or driving your car without car insurance; and you scared looking behind your back because you couldn't pay the bill hoping you don't get stopped because you're gonna go to jail. Because it's just, there's a lot of people who live like that. And if they put that or try to take it away. It's gonna, it's gonna hurt a lot of people and a lot of kids and a lot of families and it's just, it's so sad. It's sad. A lot of people, a lot of sick people, like me. Like it’s not that I don't want to work but without Medicaid. I don't know what I would do. I would just be here getting sicker, sicker, just waiting to die off and that's the God honest truth, because I wouldn't be able to get all the medicine that I take on a daily basis.

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