Open Letter To Bill Cassidy: We Aren’t All “illiterate,” Uneducated

My reply to Buzzfeed’s article featuring Congressman Bill Cassidy’s uninformed attack on the uninsured.

Congressman Bill Cassidy,

Last week you drew widespread attention for comments you made at a meeting the week prior, insinuating that the reason so many low income Louisianians don’t have health insurance is that they’re not smart enough to figure out how to sign up.

As Buzzfeed first reported, you said, “the reality of who the uninsured are – relatively less sophisticated, less comfortable with forms, less educated.” You added that, “They’re illiterate. I’m not saying that to be mean. I say that in compassion.”

Perhaps you misspoke. Or maybe you were saying what you really believed, behind the comfort of closed doors. Regardless, I was offended by what you said, because when you insulted the uninsured in Louisiana as “illiterate,” “less educated” and “less sophisticated,” it was me you were insulting. And I don’t fit your negative stereotype.
I’ll be 33 in April, but until October of last year, when I was able to successfully sign up for Medicaid, it had been more than 10 years since I last had health insurance. It wasn’t for lack of trying. It wasn’t for lack of education. It wasn’t because I was “illiterate.” It was because I couldn’t afford it, and there wasn’t an affordable option available to me.

Ten years ago I had just graduated from Ole Miss. Like many newly graduated 22-year olds, I had no health insurance, and could not find a job that provided health care. And so I would go years between visiting a doctor, because when I did – even if just to get a flu shot – it would cost me hundreds of dollars that I just couldn’t afford.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with endometriosis. That meant numerous doctors visits, ultrasounds, and other tests, none of which I could afford without health care coverage. So imagine my stress level when I learned I would have to undergo a $35,000 surgery on my ovaries.

I underwent the surgery – without knowing how I’d ever afford it (what else is a young woman supposed to do in that situation?). But in a freak spring of luck, I was chosen to appear on the game show Wheel of Fortune, and I won. With my winnings, I was able to pay off the surgery, but still could not afford health coverage because of my “preexisting condition.”

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer. That surgery cost me $9,500, all out of pocket, and I’m still working to pay it off. Since I had returned to school to complete a Masters degree at the University of New Orleans, I can barely afford the payments for the surgery, even while I work outside my studies.

But still, I’m thankful now to at least have Medicaid. It’s not the best coverage, but it is some coverage for when I really need it. Unfortunately, because of you standing with Bobby Jindal and rejecting Medicaid expansion for Louisiana, nearly 250,000 in our state don’t even have that opportunity. Those 250,000 don’t have insurance, not because they’re “illiterate,” “less educated” and “less sophisticated,” as you say, but because you have denied them the opportunity to have health care.

Mr. Cassidy, my point is this: for you to say that the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who are living now without access to health care are doing so because they aren’t smart enough, or literate enough, to figure it out, is more than just insulting, it’s simply not true.

It’s insulting to pretend otherwise.

Jacquelyn Brubaker
New Orleans


Via Buzzfeed

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