The Affordable Care Act was supposed to help the uninsured, and people receiving various forms of assistance, like SSI and disability. For one Tennessee couple, however, the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid is destroying their lives.
An article in The Tennessean talks about Linda Drain, a Tennessee woman who has epilepsy so severe she can’t work. Linda draws SSI, and qualifies for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Her husband is retired, and draws regular Social Security.
If they stay together, Linda loses her SSI and state-covered healthcare.
When Larry retired at age 62, they thought they’d be okay. They didn’t know that Linda would lose her SSI and TennCare coverage. They got a call from the Social Security Administration, explaining the situation. When Larry tried to reverse his decision, they found out they’d have to reimburse Social Security for money that they’d already spent on rent and food. At that point, they were stuck, with separation being the only answer.
If Tennessee had decided to expand Medicaid, then this couple wouldn’t be in this fix because they’d still qualify for TennCare, and that would be that. Larry Drain thinks that this problem is at least partly his fault, because he believes taking retirement was the worst decision he could have made. But they did try to do their homework, and he did ask what would happen if he reversed his decision and went back to work. So it’s not like he just threw caution to the wind and retired, knowing full well there would be a problem.
The Tennessean notes that 162,000 people in Tennessee fall between qualifying for government subsidies and qualifying for coverage through Medicaid. That’s 162,000 people who are still stuck where they were before the ACA went into effect. For the Drains, it’s meant legally separating so that Linda could keep her TennCare coverage, so that she could continue to receive treatment for epilepsy so severe that the seizures have damaged the nerves in her back.
Tennessee was one of the states that was thinking about using federal dollars to purchase private insurance for the people who fall into that coverage gap. A piece on USAToday from 2013 discussed how Governor Haslam called his plan “real health reform,” which would also require co-pays for anybody who could afford to pay something, and include a definite ending date for the plan.
A year ago, HHS had not approved that plan, and it looks like they still have not approved it. If they have, then the Drains still fall into a coverage gap that doesn’t have to exist. Nobody should have to go through what they’ve gone through. In addition to Linda’s epilepsy and its effects, The Tennessean mentioned that Larry has a hernia he can’t afford the surgery for, because he doesn’t have any healthcare coverage at all right now.
So, the Republicans are trying to prove that they’re the party fighting for the people? How does refusing to expand Medicaid prove that? They say they’re trying to preserve our country’s financial situation for future generations. The states refusing expansion are doing so for different reasons, according to Advisory.com’s tracking site, but most of them boil down to simply trying to make a point. The ACA contained a lot of provisions for paying for various spending increases, including the federal dollars that would bolster Medicaid so the states could expand their programs. So they’re going to hurt real people. Like the Drains. Because they can.
Photo: Shelly Mays, The Tennessean.