By Tom Wilemon | The Tennessean
Lucy Maynard cried for two hours in a borrowed home at the dead-end street of a trailer park in Old Hickory after watching Gov. Bill Haslam announce that Medicaid wouldn't be expanded in Tennessee.
Now she figures she'll have to stick with a home remedy for her health care plan.
"I eat aspirin," she said. "That's all I get is a cheap bottle of aspirins."
She suffers from the pain of an old injury and the nagging depression that comes with growing older and being poor. At age 59, she's too young for Medicare but feels too broken for anyone to offer her a job with health benefits.
Ted Woodward of East Nashville also knows what it's like to suck it up. Without health insurance, the 60-year-old man had to wear a girdle for eight months before he finally was able to get a hernia operation.
If the state does not find a way to expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act, working-class Tennesseans who got caught in the cracks caused by illnesses, injuries and hard economic times are among the most vulnerable. While a hospital emergency room cannot turn them away if they seek treatment for a life-threatening illness, they have few or no options for elective surgeries and often go without treatment for chronic conditions that can develop into more serious health threats.
The Affordable Care Act directs funds to states so they can expand coverage to adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $32,000 a year for a family of four and about $15,000 for an unmarried individual. Haslam, however, wants TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, to use that money to help them buy private insurance.
For now, however, people without insurance -- Maynard and Woodward, for example -- won't get the federal help they were expecting.
'Health insurance mess'
Maynard said she's been on the production line of a factory, taken care of repairs as a property manager and helped people out at a social services agency during different career stints. Three years ago, she made the mistake of lifting something heavy that caused permanent damage.
"It took a year and a half before I could use my left arm," she said. "Now my shoulder and neck kill me all the time."
She wound up losing her car and her home. Now she's living with a former sister-in-law in her trailer.
Woodward went to Nashville General Hospital at Meharry, the safety-net hospital subsidized by the city, for his hernia operation. He said he listened to Haslam explain trying to come up with a plan in which federal dollars for the expansion of health coverage would go to private insurers. Although he said he's no fan of "Obamacare," which he is still learning about, Woodward said he does not trust insurance companies.
"Let's be honest," Woodward said. "The health insurance mess in America is a huge scam."
Julie Peacock of Shelbyville, 39, with degenerative bone disease, has needed surgery on a cyst behind her kneecap for two years.
"The place I worked at sold out to Mexico, and I could not afford the COBRA insurance," she said.
So she waits -- and keeps a belt handy.
"What I was told was if it ruptures, tie a belt around your leg and go to the closest emergency room to keep it from going to your heart," Peacock said. "It's a constant worry every day."
Calvin Monroe, 62, of Dyersburg just hopes nothing else will go wrong. He considered himself a successful developer until the 2001 recession left him holding over $1 million in debt for eight houses he invested in. He filed bankruptcy, then got cancer, diabetes and heart disease, he said.
He watched Haslam's announcement and thought the governor was expanding TennCare until the governor said he wasn't.
"I'm really, really confused," Monroe said. "I really am. Buddy, I'm going to tell you. If one thing goes wrong without insurance, I'm doomed."