Getting a divorce just to get healthcare

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Right now, too many American couples are discovering that when faced with a serious illness, they often must break-up the family to quality for coverage that will pay for the care they need, because their insurance company puts a limit on treatment. Under the reform legislation in Congress, caps on catastrophic coverage would be eliminated – and would end these unnecessary divorces.

At the recent White House healthcare summit, Sen. Jay Rockefeller cited one example of a West Virginia couple who, faced with coverage caps and the million-dollar cost of treating their son’s cancer, were advised to divorce in order to qualify for Medicaid – the government-run healthcare program for low-income Americans. Tragically, their son died before they had to make that horrible decision.

“The Bords are two dedicated school teachers — with health insurance, through their employer — whose son Samuel had Leukemia and needed treatment well beyond the onerous annual insurance limits they didn’t even know they had,” Rockefeller said in an earlier statement.

“Samuel’s parents were desperate and feared for the worst. When he hit his million dollar cap, my office helped his parents to find more resources, but those ran out too. So, the Bords were left with two heart-wrenching suggestions — consider getting a divorce so that Samuel would qualify for Medicaid OR stop taking their other children – Samuel’s twin brothers – to the doctor altogether, even if they get sick, in order to save every penny for Samuel.

That’s right. Get a divorce OR choose one child’s healthcare needs over another’s. Those are the choices our nation offered to these caring, hardworking parents with a sick child?

This isn’t a unique situation. Consumers Union has collected thousands of stories from Americans throughout the country struggling with our broken health-care system. Among them are couples who, despite their love for one another — or rather because of their love for one another — divorced in order to get healthcare.

They include Julie and Gene Thomsen of Spokane, Wash., who after 18 years of marriage, divorced so Julie could qualify for treatment for her uterine cancer. Their income as a couple was $100 over the qualifying limit; breaking up would enable Julie, who was too sick to work, to get the care she needed through Medicaid.

“As we were going through the divorce process, we discovered that we weren’t alone,” Julie said. “There are many couples in the same situation. It is not right to force people to make the choice of ‘get a divorce or die.’ (See the Thomsen’s story here, as well as comments from other Americans in their situation).

Julie battled cancer for over four years and celebrated every day she had, speaking out for the need to reform our healthcare system so others wouldn’t have to struggle to get care the way she did. She volunteered her time with organizations that fundraise for cancer research, and she and Gene continued to take care of each other. After all, they were – in their hearts, if not on paper – still married.

Julie passed away in January 2009. It was the same month that President Obama vowed to reform our healthcare system, and Congress promised to give all Americans affordable, dependable health coverage they could always count on.

The Thomsens and and the Bords are truly tragic examples of our current nonsensical healthcare system, that requires breaking up a family to get needed medical treatment. It is absurd, outrageous, ridiculous – and will continue unless Congress passes the package of health insurance reforms before it.

One response to “Getting a divorce just to get healthcare”

  1. margaret and william dyber says:

    Although I’m a retired NYC high school teacher my pharmacy benefits are only a medicare look a like and therefore my husband’s heart and diabetes meds are unaffordable for us. We are considering divorce because his income won’t be mixed with mine and his yearly income will qualify him for medicaid at $12,070 a year rather than the $57K when mixed with mine. Am I correct to think he can get his medications if we are divorced?

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