In Their Own Words
Joe & Susan, Groton
Joe and his wife Susan haven’t lost HUSKY, at least not yet. Over the course of the year, they received notices three different times that they would be terminated for different reasons, but due to very persistent advocacy, mostly by Joe, they still have coverage. One letter only gave them a week’s notice before they were to be cut off.
Susan is forty-six and has had a series of low-wage jobs, many she lost due to mental health issues. She used to be a secretary, but couldn’t keep up with the job. She worked in a pet store, but got laid off. She was looking for work the last time we talked. Joe is forty-seven and disabled. He has Medicare coverage, but HUSKY pays the significant coinsurance bills and for his medications. Their two girls, ages sixteen and eighteen, are on HUSKY.
It is very hard to get Joe to talk about his own health problems. He keeps turning the conversation back to his wife’s health. He cares deeply for her and spends a great deal of time getting her the medical care she needs. Joe was a truck driver for many years. Before that he worked for Electric Boat after leaving the Navy. He always had insurance for the whole family. However, loading and unloading trucks is hard work. In 1989 he suffered a hernia and nerve damage that was repaired through surgery. But he went back to work loading and unloading trucks, and re-injured himself. He cannot work and needs a cane to walk. He has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He has had pancreatic problems that at times have made it impossible to eat; he lost 20 pounds the last time it flared up. He just learned that he may have pancreatic cancer; he needs more tests to find out. Waiting is the hardest part.
Susan has had migraines her whole life. She suffers from depression and social anxiety. In the last two years, she has improved enough that she can answer the phone, but Joe is worried about her mental health if they become uninsured again. She has rheumatoid arthritis. Joe emphasizes that because of her treatment and the medications she can get under HUSKY, “she is slowly coming back to us.”
While working is extremely stressful for Susan, she has to keep earning wages or, they’ve been told, they will lose their place in the group of HUSKY parents protected by the legal aid lawsuit. Susan worked when they were first married, but stopped a few years ago to care for the girls and to concentrate on healing. She went back to work because they needed the money after Joe’s injuries.
When Joe lost his job in 1990, the entire family was uninsured for twelve years before they enrolled in HUSKY. During those years, Susan never saw a doctor and got no medications. She called in sick often bed-ridden for days due to her migraines. Joe stopped taking his blood pressure medications when he was uninsured which led to heart palpitations. He looked into buying private insurance for his family when he lost his job, but it was over $500/month and there was no money for that.
Right now, Joe takes ten medications and Susan takes eleven. Their monthly medication bill is $2280.50. Their total monthly income is $2475. Joe doesn’t know how they would manage if they lose HUSKY.
During our first meeting, Joe had to leave for about twenty minutes to run out to the bank and finish up the paperwork for a loan to pay bills. They have been in significant debt due to health issues many times before they got HUSKY. Joe’s compounding 20% coinsurance under Medicare for his many doctor visits added up and they had to take a second mortgage on their home. He had thousands of dollars in services that were never covered by Medicare at all. He was in the hospital for a week once for acute pancreatitis before they got HUSKY; the hospital helped them out with that bill. He knows that if they lose HUSKY again, they will buried under thousands and thousands of dollars of debt. They will never get out from under it.
Joe spends many hours each week on securing his family’s health care services – both eligibility and finding a provider who will take HUSKY. It is far easier for him to find doctors for his care, despite his complex problems because he has Medicare. “Company insurance” was great – a little bit of a hassle now and then with the insurance company, but nothing like HUSKY or being uninsured. Joe can talk for hours about the difficulty he has had finding providers in their area that will take HUSKY. Susan has to travel sixty-five miles to Farmington to see her doctors.
But HUSKY is far better than being uninsured. There were no hassles then because they just never saw a doctor. When they had to, they would pay for medications until they couldn’t afford them anymore. Susan tried to treat herself with herbs when she was uninsured – it didn’t work.
When asked who should solve the problem of the uninsured, Joe answers that government, employers and insurance companies all share responsibility. “I always had insurance, but then I got hurt. As soon as I needed it, it was gone.” “Insurance for individuals is so high, no one can afford that.” “We’re in a Catch 22. I make too much to qualify for programs, but not enough to buy anything.” “My wife struggles everyday to work. Arthritis, headaches, anxiety. With HUSKY it’s under control.” “I know a lot of people abuse the system and that’s not right. But there’s a lot of us here not by choice – if I could get up and work, I would, but physically I can’t.” “It’s not fair that my wife has to work to get the treatment, when working makes it harder for her to get well.”
Unless something is done, Joe and Susan will lose HUSKY along with 16,000 other HUSKY parents on April 1st.