Consumers Union’s Cover America Tour traveled the country this past summer documenting Americans’ experiences with our health care system. We met Julie in August 2008.
Julie found the love of her life on her second marriage to Gene. After 18 years together, Gene showed Julie how much he loved her by giving her a divorce.
Employed but uninsured, Julie was diagnosed with uterine cancer four years ago. She was able to get free care through a special program offered by the city of Spokane, Wash. But it was a temporary solution, and when the city could no longer offer her help, Julie called every program she could find so she could continue cancer treatments. They all told her the same thing: the couple made too much money.
By this point Julie was out on disability, too sick to work. But Gene, a cabinet builder, made about $100 a month over the limit to qualify for any programs. How would they survive if he actually tried to make less money? They were barely making ends meet as it was, especially with the mounting medical bills.
They finally realized that in order for Julie to financially qualify for a program to get treatment for her cancer, they’d have to do the unthinkable – get a divorce.
Julie and Gene went to the county courthouse to file the papers that legally ended their marriage, allowing Julie to finally qualify for Medicaid and receive treatment. “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’.”
While she and Gene were relieved that she finally had coverage, Medicaid came with its own pitfalls. They quickly learned that Julie had to reapply every six months, creating a never-ending stream of paperwork, applications, deadlines – and the constant worry that she might get rejected for filling something out wrong.
A cancer diagnosis is frightening and life-altering enough. Now add on the scramble to find coverage for treatment to save your own life, and having to divorce your spouse. As Julie put it, “And cancer patients aren’t supposed to be under a lot of stress…what a joke.”
But Julie was a fighter. She battled cancer for over 4 years and celebrated every day she had, speaking out for the need to reform our health care 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.
Two weeks ago, cancer took Julie’s life. We send our deepest sympathy to her friends and family. She touched our lives, and she will be missed.
Her story illustrates the impossible dilemma so many Americans currently face trying to secure affordable, quality health coverage. You can take action for change at www.PrescriptionForChange.org