“If you don’t have health insurance, they ask you to pay upfront,” she says. “I offered to pay half but they won’t accept that, either.” Gigi is afraid of incurring more medical bills by going back to the hospital emergency room. She’s unemployed. She’s sick. And she doesn’t know where to turn. She’s written letters to Florida’s two Senators and county and state officials but not heard back.
“I don’t understand what’s happening in Florida where I can’t get health care. I’ve worked all my life. I’m a good person. I volunteer in my community. I feel so left out,” she says.
For uninsured Florida residents like Gigi who don’t qualify for Medicaid, the only option is federally qualified public health clinics. Right now, these clinics are overwhelmed, or aren't taking new patients. Gigi was able to get a clinic appointment in two weeks, but doesn’t know if it’s dangerous to wait that long.
Florida is one of 12 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, leaving 1.5 million residents in a “coverage gap” without access to affordable health care in a pandemic. Many lost their jobs and health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid because they don’t meet strict requirements that limit the program to pregnant women, the disabled and extremely low-income parents. Without a job or very low unemployment compensation, they don’t have enough income to purchase an Affordable Care Act policy, either.
For COVID-19 “long haul” patients, the virus appears to trigger long-lasting impacts to the immune system, affecting every part of the body. Patients report lingering fatigue, difficulty breathing, as well as joint and chest pain that negatively affect their quality of life, leaving them unable to resume normal activities, including returning to work.
“I still owe on medical bills from my last bout with pneumonia,” Gigi says. “In this country, it’s unbelievable people can’t get health care, even in a pandemic. I wouldn’t be so stressed if I could at least not be left to wonder if I might die without being seen by a doctor.”