December 28, 2012
Posted: 12/28/2012 8:44 am EST | Updated: 12/28/2012 12:18 pm EST
RUSTON, La. — With no health insurance and not enough money for a doctor, Laura Johnson is long accustomed to treating her ailments with a self-written prescription: home remedies, prayer and denial.
Over decades, she made her living assisting elderly people in nursing homes in jobs that paid just above minimum wage and included no health benefits. So even as her feet swelled to such an extent that she could no longer stuff them into her shoes, and even as nausea, headaches and dizziness plagued her, she reached for the aspirin bottle or made do with a teaspoon of vinegar. She propped her feet up on pillows and hoped for relief.
“Before I got sick,” she said, “I hadn’t been to the doctor in 20 years.”
After she collapsed last year and landed in in a local emergency room, doctors diagnosed her with congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and hypothyroid. They ordered her not to work. She arranged a Social Security disability benefit, and she enrolled in Medicaid, the government-furnished insurance program for the poor. She used her Medicaid card to secure needed prescription medications. Her ailments stabilized.
But this year, the state determined that the $819 a month she draws in disability payments exceed the allowable limit. By the federal government’s reckoning, her $9,800 annual income made her officially poor. But under the standards set by Louisiana, she was too well off to receive Medicaid.
This is how Johnson, 57, finds herself back amid the roughly 49 million Americans who lack health insurance. This is why she must again reach into her pocket to secure her prescription drugs, a supply that runs about $200 a month. That sum is beyond her, so she has gone more than four months without taking her pills on a regular basis. Once again, her feet are swelling and her chest is filling with fluid. Once again, she is confronted with the realization that a lifetime of labor does not entitle her to see a doctor any more than it enables her to gain crucial medications.
“It just doesn’t seem right to me,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Johnson is precisely the sort of person who is supposed to Read the rest of this entry »