On counting the costs

The Tennessee Justice Center has been going around the state all summer in what it calls it’s “counting the costs tour.” The idea is real simple.   Put names and faces to the 280,000 Tennessean without insurance.   Find out what the impact of lack of insurance has met in their lives and what the passage of Insure Tennessee could mean. It has been about telling communities what the real life impact of Insure Tennessee would be for them.   It is about hospitals in trouble.   It is about the economy and jobs.   It is about safety.   It is about the health of our health system.   It has been about Tennessee.   It has been about justice.   It has been about you and me.

On September 1 the “counting the costs”  tour comes to Knoxville.   I will be  there and will get a brief chance to share some of my story along with other people in the “coverage gap.”

For me the last few days have been about “counting the costs…”

My name is Larry Drain.   I am 63 years old.   In September I will turn 64.

I am one of 280,000 people in Tennessee that would be affected by the passage of Insure Tennessee.   I am in the “Gap.”

But I am one of the lucky ones.   I am not going to die.

I left a job 7 or 8 years ago in which I had health insurance.   I had always had insurance and to be honest I never realized what a big deal it would be to go without it.

I took a job working in a local hospital.   The job became a full time job but was not called full time.   The hospital had been losing a lot of money on uncompensated care and finally started freezing full time non nursing positions when they came open to save money.   I was a PRN employee.   I worked full time hours,  did full time things.   I just had no benefits.   No insurance… Nothing.   I still remember the week I worked with pneumonia because if I took off I would not have enough money on my check to pay the rent.

I retired finally.   I had a period of time when I was in a lot of pain.   I didn’t want to go to the ER.   I thought I needed more than that.   I finally saved enough money and went to the doctor.

He told me I needed an operation.   The condition in medical terms was common place and the surgery itself was minor and highly successful.  When I told him I could not have surgery I thought he was going to have a heart attack.

He told me my outlook.   I would live with pain,  sometimes it would be very minor,  sometimes it would be life disrupting.   If I was lucky I might go years without the need for emergency surgery.   It might happen tomorrow.   If it did permanent disability or even death could be a possibility.

My wife is disabled.   She has had seizures since birth.   Years ago a good day was 10-15 grand Mal seizures.   She had brain surgery and that slowed the seizures for a little while but when they came back they came back with a vengeance.   She is on Tenn Care and needs that insurance in order to survive.

Since Tenn Care was not expanded in Tennessee in order to keep her insurance she must keep her SSI.   If it had been expanded she would not have to fit into a category to be insured.   Poverty would have been enough.

When I retired Social Security called us in and told us that we made far too much money.   Even though retirement was a loss of income we made too much money.   They proceeded to take away almost all her SSI.   They told me I could get a job but if I made more than $40 in a month they would take away all her SSI which would mean her Tenn Care which would mean her death.

We separated on December 26, 2013.  After 34 years of marriage we separated.   She  now has her SSI back and her Tenn Care is safe….. As long as we don’t live together.

We live 25 miles apart now.   Chaos is our every day companion and in practical terms our marriage is illegal.

Insure Tennessee would give us the chance to be man and wife.   Shortly after we separated I started writing letters to Governor Haslam.   I wrote him every day over 140 letters.   I asked him to give us a chance.

When Insure Tennessee came up I was overjoyed.   I saw hope.   When it lost in the special session I was devastated,  not just that it lost but how it lost.

I was one of the 900 people there the day it lost in the regular session.   I had met a lady who had no insurance and was dying from cancer and another lady whose daughter had died because of not having any insurance.   We sat and hugged in the hallway when we got word and she cried and wanted to know if that meant she was going to die.

The sickness and death of its less fortunate people should never be the policy of a decent state.   It is time to Insure Tennessee.

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