Health Care

Covered under Medicaid, for now

Ceslynn Watkins.
Ceslynn Watkins.

For two years, Florida legislators have refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Their decision left an estimated 850,000 Floridians without healthcare insurance in the "coverage gap." Here are some of their stories.

Ceslynn Watkins lost her healthcare coverage about five years ago, when her youngest daughter turned 18, leaving her with no dependent children — and automatically excluding her from Medicaid in Florida.

Living without insurance hasn’t been easy, she said. Watkins, 51, has lived with life-changing spinal injuries since a drunk driver ran a red light in 1988 and plowed into the Toyota Celica she was traveling in.

“I broke level four, five and six of my vertebrae,’’ she said. “They had to remove bone from the right side of my butt cheek to fuse my neck with the wire.”

Doctors advised her not to work, Watkins said. “But I was young, energetic, and I wanted to work. That’s what I did.”

Sedentary customer service jobs and, most recently, working part-time in a warehouse for the Miami-Dade County Elections Department caused muscle spasms and recurring pain, though. She stopped working altogether in 2013.

Last year, Watkins enrolled in Jackson Health System’s charity care program, which offers discounted care for low-income residents with no other options for coverage. But the prices were too high.

“Six dollars for medicine, I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to see the specialist. They were $40.”

In March, Watkins’ two young granddaughters moved in with her. And the state reopened her Medicaid benefits. Since then, she’s been to the doctor three times — for a physical, blood tests and lab results. She also has been to the dentist.

Why so many appointments? Because, Watkins said, she doesn’t know how long her benefits will last.

“I’m trying to use it to my advantage,’’ she said, “because anything can happen.”