Michelle Lawrence has a message for legislators who are still undecided on whether to continue expanding Medicaid in New Hampshire. She is one of the people behind the bill, and she has been feeling unwell for about a year, experiencing symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, night sweats, and infections.
During her annual physical, Lawrence urged doctors to check her for cancer. A few weeks later, she received a call informing her that she had chronic T-cell large granular lymphocytic leukemia, a rare type of blood cancer. That was 14 years ago, when she was just 31 years old.
Her life changed overnight, and she began years of treatment with oral chemotherapy and steroids. She was working full-time and had private insurance, but she watched her medical bills pile up. “Every time I walk into the office, there’s a $60 copay, and it adds up,” she said.
A year ago, Lawrence’s doctors told her that she needed to switch her treatment because she was no longer responding to it. “It’s all about making my life comfortable and being able to participate in activities that are meaningful to me,” she said. “But there is nothing slowing the progression of the disease at this point, so it will progress. It’s terminal.”
Unable to work full-time without a job and insurance, Lawrence took a job as a clinical case manager at a social services agency where she worked with adults with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries but later lost her job, which also meant losing her health insurance. So Lawrence applied for Granite Advantage, an expanded Medicaid program the state created in 2014.
The Senate bill to permanently reauthorize the Granite Advantage program passed the Senate by a majority in March, but it has become more controversial in the House, with some lawmakers wanting a shorter extension, and others arguing that it will make it harder and more expensive to get contracts with providers.
Lawrence testified in favor of making the program permanent at Senate and House committee hearings. “For the first time in almost 14 years of fighting cancer, the main focus is on self-care, not on insurance or premiums,” she told lawmakers. “The stress it relieves is indescribable,” her supporters say.
The program has provided access to Medicaid expansion since it was enacted in 2014, and it has benefited more than 219,000 Granite residents. Lawrence’s story is not unique, and Ernie Davis, director of Northeastern state government at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said: “Unfortunately, things like this are very common.”