Speaker Harwell’s task force will be coming to Knoxville on the 19th. If you live in this area I hope you will come and make your feelings known. It will be at Pellissippi State College off Hardin Valley Road at 4 pm. I hope to see you there. If not I hope you will share your thoughts, your experience, your story with the task force members. Now is the time for us to neither be quiet or invisible. What you do matters.
There is a decent chance it looks like I will have a chance to speak. My story is below. I share it not to say that it is any more important than anybody else’s. I share it to say all stories matter. All voices count. Please let yours be heard.
My name is Larry Drain and I am 64 years old. I am a member of Grace Baptist Church where I sing in the choir. My wife Linda and I have been married for 35 years.
I want to thank you for allowing me to come and speak today. I want to particularly thank Rep Kane for being so gracious to me in our earlier conversation.
I have been to a lot of meetings like this and have heard hospital people, health providers, doctors, civic leaders and a whole host of other people talk about why they think expanding health coverage to the poor and uninsured is so important. Much of what I have heard is so very important, vital and necessary to the conversation. Very vital. But it doesn’t begin to be sufficient.
Along with, I am sure, a lot of other people in this room I am in the gap.. I am one of the 280,000 people in this state who qualify for nothing and while I can’t speak for others I am very grateful you have given me a chance to speak for myself. Being in the gap is not my political position, nor is it in some way my agenda. It is my life. And it is the living of life without insurance I hope you listen to.
I have worked for 47 years in the mental health system as a counselor, as a social worker and a variety of other positions. Over the last 8-10 years I have been very involved as a mental health advocate. I have been involved with the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association as well as Nami. For 3 or 4 years I was chairman of the Consumer Advisory Board for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. Currently I am most involved with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
There are few greater issues in the lives of those who deal with mental health issues in their daily lives than that of accessing help. Increasing health care coverage is the single greatest mental health care reform that it is possible for the state of Tennessee to implement. There are many, many stories of tragedies that did not need to happen. I remember talking to a mother who had actually witnessed her son being beaten in a local jail. He was schizophrenic and had been wandering around town incoherent. He had been picked up for trespassing. He didn’t have insurance…. No real access to preventative care. He was placed in the general population. One Sunday afternoon while she was visiting he was attacked by another prisoner. There was no officer nearby. She had to run for help to save her son’s life.
I had a relative who died. He was young…. in his early thirties. He had had a lot of problems in life…. had lost his mother to suicide when he was young. He was extremely depressed. Looking back I don’t think anyone knew how bad. He had no insurance. He was poor and had no real access to help. One night after midnight he walked out on a lonely train track. He laid down in front of a train and died. I don’t know if access to help would have saved his life. I think it might have. But I wonder every day.
It is really very simple. Give people access to the help they need or pay for the cost of the consequences of the lack of that help. The expansion of health care is the only option that really makes sense.
I have been without healthcare for about 7 years. I go to the doctor when I think I am going to die. Literally when I think I am going to die.
I am retired now. My last full time job I had before retirement was at a local hospital. I worked without any health benefits. The hospital had lost a lot of money because of uncompensated care and had converted many full time positions to technically PRN to save on the cost of benefits.
The most important thing that I have learned though in the last couple of years is that this is about far more than my story or my tragedy. This is Tennessee’s tragedy. The people that I have met… the stories I have heard will mark me forever.
Michelle Fardan’s daughter died from a broken toe. She didn’t have any insurance. She didn’t want to make a bill she couldn’t pay. When the pain moved to her leg she didn’t go to the doctor. She had gotten a blood clot when she broke her toe. It finally got to her lungs. It exploded and she died. Her name was Monika.
Tracy Foster had the wrong kind of cancer. If you have cervical or breast cancer you are eligible for Tenn Care. Bladder cancer is killing her. Her insurance company is gofundme. A hospital has agreed to give her some charity care but she has to find a way to buy the medication she needs. The hospital is over a hundred miles from where she lives. A tank of gas is life for her. She begs.
This is from the last update on her gofundme account. “Having trouble getting my meds and other things I need. Still having a rough time with the pain.Had another trip to the Er.They said my stones have moved into my bladder and my bladder is already tore up so thats why my pain is so intense. I hate living like this.Begging for help and feeling like a burden I seriously can’t handle this anymore..I hate asking for help,I swear I do…..”
As I said before I worked for 47 years in the mental health field. My wife is disabled. She has seizures and has survived brain surgery. She has a whole host of other serious medical issues. She has Tenn Care and without it would die.
Three years ago I took early retirement from social security. Linda was doing poorly. It seemed like a good time to finally be home.
Social Security called us in and told us we made far too much money. My retirement was according to them unearned income which changed our income ceiling. They told her they were taking away all but $10 of her SSI. They told me I could get a job but if I made more than $40 in a month they would take the last $10 and she would lose her insurance. On December 26 of that year we separated to save her life.
Our hope was in health care expansion. We tried and social security was a fruitless fight. But if health care had expanded and the only requirement was to be poor we could live together and find work to make up for the lost money from social security.
I started writing Governor Haslam and for a long time wrote him every day…. over a hundred and forty letters.
Unless a solution is found regardless of what it is called my wife and I will never live together again.
I have no insurance but a few months before we separated I finally got sick. I was in a lot of pain and finally saved up enough money to go see a doctor. He told me I needed an operation. I told him I couldn’t and asked him what my options were. He said there were none.
The operation as operations go was not considered a major operation. I had a severe hernia. I asked him what to expect. He told me that with the operation I would probably recover without incident. Without it he said you will live with a lot of pain. Some days would be worse than others. You will have to be careful of what you lift and your physical activity. If all goes well all you may ever have to deal with its pain. If things go bad, if it goes bad you will be on the floor in agony and you will believe you are dying. You will have to have emergency surgery and the chances of being permanently disabled are real. Sometimes people die.
This is about a lot of people. My story is no where close to the worst I have heard nor is it the most important. I do not envy you the position you are in. Your decisions, your actions will affect the health of more people than all the doctors in any hospital on their best day. I will be praying for your wisdom, for your judgement and ultimately for your courage. It is time to close the gap and end for so many people this long nightmare.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak and your time.