Stories from the Grocery Store

Carol A. Hand

Going to the grocery store is not my favorite chore. In truth, I typically avoid it as long as possible. It sometimes feels as if I’m entering the twilight zone or the aftermath of a zombie invasion. I encounter people blocking the aisles as they talk or text on cell phones or, as if in a daze, stare glazed-eyed at the colorful shelves stocked with chemical fare or off into space. They move at such an unbelievably slow pace, seemingly oblivious to everyone else. It feels like I’m in a different dimension, moving at a different speed.

grocery store 1280px-Fredmeyer

Photo: Super Grocery – “Fredmeyer” by lyzadanger – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

I repeat an inner mantra. “Be patient, be kind.” But I try to zip thought this task and escape as quickly as I can.

These days, the major impetus for facing this task comes from the need to prepare for my granddaughter’s visits. I doubt if she would be willing to eat only the odd concoctions I come up with from my frozen garden produce and the remnants in my cupboards and canisters. Often, I bring her with me even though her requests for candy and junk food are gently ignored.

But with my granddaughter or alone, people do sometimes share their stories about the hardships they’re facing. The stories they share tell of the difficult times ordinary people are facing now and the choices they’re forced to make.

Yesterday, as I neared the dairy section, I saw a man eyeing the choices for eggs.

“I wish I could afford to buy the organic cage-free eggs,” he said as he looked at me, “but look at the price. I can’t afford them because I’ve been laid-off from my job for the winter. I have to be careful about how much I spend for food. I have to buy cheaper ones even though I’m afraid the antibiotics in them have been making me sick.”

Just before Christmas, during a trip with my granddaughter, the gentleman who was bagging his groceries at the next aisle told us his story.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m only 55 but I had to quit my job because of my health. I suffered congestive heart failure and spent a long time in the hospital. My prognosis isn’t good. The medical bills have taken all the money my wife and I were able to save. Now, I have to rely on Medicaid. The State put a lien on my house for half of its value. I worry about what will happen to my wife if I die. She’s blind. I’m the only one she has to depend on, and now, the house we worked so hard to pay for won’t provide enough to cover her care if she needs to sell it.”

My granddaughter was so sad when she heard his story, and amazed when he made a point of wishing others a merry Christmas and putting a donation in the Salvation Army collection bucket on his way out of the store. His story made me think about federal Medicaid Estate Recovery policies.

“State Medicaid programs must recover certain Medicaid benefits paid on behalf of a Medicaid enrollee. For individuals age 55 or older, states are required to seek recovery of payments from the individual’s estate for nursing facility services, home and community-based services, and related hospital and prescription drug services. States have the option to recover payments for all other Medicaid services provided to these individuals, except Medicare cost-sharing paid on behalf of Medicare Savings Program beneficiaries.” (


“Affordable Care Act of 2010. Estate recovery will be forced on millions of people who might have otherwise gone without insurance. Why? Because the plan is that millions more Americans have health insurance. That would be accomplished by expanding Medicaid and implementing premium assistance (subsidies). When a person is found to be eligible for Medicaid, they will be automatically enrolled into their state’s Medicaid program. Those forced into Medicaid will, due to the federal law, also be forced into estate recovery. Their estates will be partly or fully taken over by the federal or state government when they die.” (Medicare for


“So here’s the deal: since 1993 there has been a federal law requiring states to recover at least some of the costs of Medicaid-covered medical care for anyone 55 years old and up, from the estates of those covered.

“States enforce this law, with their own laws and policies added in, differently in every state. But the general principle is there. Up until now the usual consequence has been things like this: Medicaid puts a lien on the house of someone in a nursing facility who has run out of money, and after they die, the heirs find they have to buy the house back from the state if they want it.

“We haven’t had lots of people younger than 65 on Medicaid, because in most states simply earning less than the Federal Poverty Level did not qualify one for Medicaid.
And we haven’t had many people with lots of assets on Medicaid, because in most places you have to have less than around $2400 to your name before Medicaid will cover you. You can keep your house and your car, but Medicaid reserves the right to put liens on them and take them when you die.

“But now we have the Affordable Care Act, and its expectation that everyone in the lower tier of income will end up in the Medicaid system. To accomplish this, they have dropped the asset test. So now we will have lots of people ages 55-64, who have assets but not a lot of income right now, for whatever reason, on Medicaid.

“The kicker of it is, if you make the right amount to qualify for a subsidized health insurance plan, your costs are going to be shared and subsidized by the government. But if you go on Medicaid, you owe the entire amount that Medicaid spends on you from the day you turn 55.” (Daily

Passing ones wealth and property to the next generation is only a privilege for those who are obscenely rich. They’re the ones who have the power to suggest legislation that judges those who need assistance as free-loaders – the very working class that sustains their wealth through under-compensated labor and advertising-induced over-priced consumption. The State is only too willing to be an accomplice in recovering any assets the working class has been able to accrue.

Writing this reflection has made me wonder about the significance of trips to the grocery store. Grocery stores may be place where we are forced to confront the consequences of corporatist policies, exploitation, and social inequality. Many may simply see it as reduced choices in their lives that make it difficult for them to feed themselves and their family healthy food. Maybe distractions help shield them from that thought and the realization that they will have to make do with few healthy options.


Photo: Fruit

From now on, it will be easier for me to remember to be patient and kind during my infrequent visits to the store. It’s so easy for me to forget to avoid judging other people. They’re often doing the best they can to merely live. We’re all caught up in a system that gives us very little room to do otherwise.


Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

31 thoughts on “Stories from the Grocery Store

  1. I did not understand all of it, but to be ready to listen to people who share their needs and distresses in the big shops can be a human thing to do comfort a person instead of rushing away

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The presence you offer in the world invites people to share their lives with you, and their sorrows. You are beautiful to carry it all. I have to say when I first heard about the Medicaid recoupment policy about a year ago, I was outraged. Then I remembered that before this went into effect, in most states you couldn’t get any Medicaid assistance for necessary health care until you’d used up all your assets and were destitute. So this is actually more humane than what we had in the past but it’s still WRONG WRONG WRONG!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree, Diane. It is wrong. When I thought about this gentleman’s situation, it struck me that, as a nation, we cut taxes for the wealthy (those whom we deem worthy) while we confiscate the property of the working class and cut services for poorest among us.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. a touching reminder, Carol
    for being patient & kind
    while at the supermarket!
    i’m gonna try to slow down
    and not play
    crash carts
    with those who cut me off
    or block the way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful post, dear Carol. You have a gift of seeing and learning from situations to make you a better person. Thank you, for this reminder to be nonjudgmental even in the most unlikely places and to have compassion for others’ journeys.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. If it is all right with you, I want to post this.

    I doubt many people are aware of this premeditated criminality, I know I wasn’t. All of us have paid into this system, just as with social security, and what is our benefit, our reward, for doing so? At the end of life, if we are not wealthy, everything we have to offer our children as an inheritance will be owned by and go to the state. How convenient: not only are they seeking ways to murder all of us, they have also made sure they can pillage us and our families as well.

    As a musician, I do not have much of an estate, nor do I have family left. So this system will not make out when I sign off, not a penny. And this makes my joy complete! I knew there was a positive, somewhere, to not having bread like the Grateful Dead:-)

    There are a multitude of times, like right now, when I am completely repulsed by the idea that this is the country I was born in.

    Thank you for pointing this out, Carol!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. This issue makes me angry, too, Sojourner. I doubt that many people know about Estate Recovery until they need help from Medicaid.

      (I appreciate your request for permission to share this, but please know you are always welcome to do so with my posts.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Great, I will just do so, from here forward. If I post something, and you do change your mind, then just let me know, and I will take it down.

        It is maddening to me that these criminals get away with this! There are days when I just want to hide somewhere, anywhere, and seal the opening behind me, and then pretend none of this exists. But I can’t, nor, in the end, do I want to.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments, Michael. The mean-spirited nature of so many of US social welfare policies is criminal, a legacy of the Elizabethan Poor Laws upon which the values and assumptions are based.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m very lucky to have a farmers market where I live and to get most of my food there (including organic meat and eggs). Because the middle man is cut out, it’s much cheaper than supermarket food. It’s also much safer than food produced by factory farms, ie much less likely to carry food borne illnesses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This seems to be the wisest course of action, Stuart – to produce and sell more organic food locally. Even in this northern climate, it would be possible. And there are so many other positive community-building dimensions of working toward food sovereignty as well…


  7. “Passing ones wealth and property to the next generation is only a privilege for those who are obscenely rich. They’re the ones who have the power to suggest legislation that judges those who need assistance as free-loaders – the very working class that sustains their wealth through under-compensated labor and advertising-induced over-priced consumption. The State is only too willing to be an accomplice in recovering any assets the working class has been able to accrue.”
    ~ Carol, those of us who are not part of the One Percent have been bought. We delude ourselves that we are in control of our lives.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your thoughtful comments are greatly appreciated, Rosaliene. These stories have continued to replay in my thoughts along with the question – What can be done to make healthy food available to everyone in this community? I think it’s a question that needs to be answered on a local basis everywhere by people working together toward solutions. It won’t end oppression, but I think it’s a possible step toward liberation…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    What a powerful post! As I’ve stated on my own blog, Indiana has adopted draconian measures such as docking food stamps for every $100 one earns…thereby keeping people in perpetual poverty.
    And thank you, Carol, for the excellent excerpts of Obama care that will take away ALL assets of anyone asking for assistance. So the antidote to this is to grow as much of your own food, with heirloom seeds, that you can. Food is medicine and organic food is the means to obtain health. Then you won’t need Obama care. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Medicaid: just another tool in the capitalist toolbox to ensure that the expropriation of the working class remains as complete as possible so as to ensure the compliance, dependence and indebtedness of the next generation.

    Every generation must do its patriotic duty and keep the rich of America very rich: the less they are willing to work for, the more motivated they are, which depends entirely on how destitute they are, the greater their contribution to the National Interest.

    Great post, Carol, for what it makes glaringly (and dishearteningly) obvious.

    If I may also reblog?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Heart-wrenching. In Canada we’re extremely blessed to have provincial universal health care programs, and cannot fathom the American system. Our system is far from perfect (especially compared to some countries in Europe), as people do fall through the cracks, and supplemental private health insurance is a great benefit to have (although, really, it shouldn’t be necessary!), but what you describe is horrendous.
    We have the same big-grocery-store conundrums with artificial food here too, and need to look around for local sources of healthier nutrition (speaking from a geographical area that is especially blessed; not to be taken for granted). Your observations, and your readers’ comments, always enrich my perspective on the world around us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing such important insights and observations, Hildegard. The differences in policies are indeed distressing. Access to healthy affordable (local) food is a crucial issue, especially for those of us in northern climates. 🙂


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