A single father with serious health problems loses his Medicaid when his daughter turns 18. He loses his ability to work because he must quarantine to save his life. Florida’s limited Medicaid program means he’s unable to see doctors, get life-saving medications or surgery. Where can he turn in the time of COVID-19?
For Mark Poole, having health insurance would give him the opportunity to live long enough to see his teenage daughter blossom into a strong young woman.
Without it, he fears for their future.
“I don’t want to scare my daughter, but if things don’t change, I’ll be dead in two years,” he says.
Poole was born with aortic stenosis, a congenital heart condition. In 2003, surgeons replaced a heart valve. Ten years later, he had triple bypass surgery and a new valve installed, which will need to be replaced eventually.
He also has diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), for which he takes expensive medications.
Poole raised his daughter as a single father. He made a career as a restaurant manager, making a good living in a job with benefits and health insurance.
Somewhere along the way, however, life’s challenges caught up with him. Declining health and bad luck in the form of a serious car accident left him impaired, disabled and unable to continue working full-time. Still, they persevered. When he couldn’t keep up in his old job, he became a gig worker making restaurant and grocery deliveries. His daughter got a full-time job at a donut shop.
And then came the coronavirus.
His daughter lost her job when the shop closed. Poole was forced to quarantine because underlying health conditions make him vulnerable to virus complications, putting him at a higher risk of death.
Still, he had Medicaid. But in April, when his daughter turned 18, he was terminated from the federal program that provides healthcare for low-income parents. To qualify for Medicaid in Florida, you must be pregnant, have minor children or be disabled. In 37 other states that have “expanded” Medicaid, low-income working adults without minor children, like Poole, qualify for the healthcare program.
Now, where does he turn?
“I was told to just go to the hospital emergency room if I have a health problem,” Poole says. “But the ER just makes sure you’re alive, if your heart is beating. They give you medication and send you on your way. That’s not healthcare.”
Poole needs prescriptions for life-saving medications, including insulin and high blood pressure pills. He also needs regular check ups from a cardiologist and will need heart surgery to replace his deteriorating heart valve within a few years.
Poole’s options are limited to public health clinics that receive federal funds to see uninsured patients, but there are significant co-pays for medications and visits. With COVID-19, public clinics and publicly funded hospitals are now overwhelmed and underfunded, making matters worse for desperate patients.
“It seems nobody in the State of Florida cares if you can’t see a doctor,” he says.
His daughter says she’ll pay for her father’s medications once her unemployment check comes in, though the state’s malfunctioning system has yet to approve her claim. She could return to work at the donut shop soon, though that carries a risk if she contracts the virus and brings it home to her father.
“It looks very bleak now,” Poole says. “But my truth is I have to keep trying. For my daughter.”
The Florida Health Justice Project, a nonprofit organization, recognizes that access to quality and affordable health care is a human right and engages in comprehensive advocacy to expand health care access and promote health equity for vulnerable Floridians.
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