At Daira Hernandez-Gayosso’s 18th birthday party, she received a text from CVS Pharmacy that her medical insurance would not cover the cost of her medication. In a panic, she said she called the health department and learned that she no longer qualified for traditional Medicaid because of her age.
“I was very sad and mostly worried,” Gayosso, a UNC sophomore, said. “It consumed my mind a lot. And I remember it was near finals. I just wanted to cry.”
That was last December. Now, Gayosso said she feels some sense of relief because Medicaid in North Carolina will expand under the Affordable Care Act beginning Dec. 1.
Medicaid is a health insurance program for low-income individuals and families, which covers health services like hospital visits, prescriptions, vision care and dental care. The new age requirement for adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty line is 19 to 64 years old. In North Carolina, the requirement previously cut off at 18 years old.
Ciara Zachary, a UNC assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said she wishes the expansion could have happened sooner. One of the reasons the policy has taken over a decade to go into effect, she said, is because it was tied to the state budget and people had to vote on how to allocate funds.
"This is when the policy is difficult, sometimes to get one great policy when you take some losses,” Zachary said.
Gayosso said losing her Medicaid had an impact on her mental health and affected her everyday life. She said she didn’t feel like herself and struggled to focus on her academics.
She said was taking three medications for mental health — two antidepressants and one antipsychotic — but Gayosso had to go weeks without taking them because she could not afford her medication.
“I was feeling symptoms of withdrawal,” she said. “I would just walk and I would feel very dizzy. The light would bother my eyes. Like, a throbbing head [pain], it was really bad.”