Talk about a bitter pill. In order to get health insurance, a devoted husband divorced his wife just so she would qualify for Medicaid and could have chemotherapy.
As Rudy Friece, a 72-year-old truck driver, told the “Star Banner” newspaper in Ocala, Florida, he and Emily had been happily married for almost 50 years, had two children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. But they divorced in order for Emily to have weekly $2,800 treatments for terminal bone cancer.
Through the divorce they wiped out her right to their joint assets, thus making her eligible for Medicaid, which is intended for the poor. It would pay all of the medically necessary costs.
Medicare, which Emily qualified for based on her age, has deductibles and upper limits for hospitalization. In addition, Medicare would reimburse only 80 percent of approved out-patient treatments and doctor bills.
She could stay married and collect Medicare, but it wouldn’t cover enough; or she could get divorced and get Medicaid to cover her treatments.
Isn’t this the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?
Friece said his wife refused to consider a divorce for a while out of principle. She burst into tears at the thought of dissolving their marriage. But as her cancer progressed, she gave in. “I told her she had no choice,” Friece told the newspaper. “She was getting worse and worse.”
In 2005, the couple picked up a guidebook on marital dissolutions, and marched into an Ohio courthouse, their $75 divorce petition in hand. Do you know what the judge told this loving couple, divorcing out of desperation?
Rudy Friece said the judge told them, “I've never given anyone a dissolution that had been married this long.”
Friece said, “After it was done, it was done. I took care of her up until the very end.”
She died with the love of her life by her side, as his spiritual wife, if not his legal wife.
And they are not the only couple facing such a dire choice. Elderly and low-income couples across the country are facing the financial handcuffs of our healthcare system. They are forced to split up to qualify for government-funded health coverage.
Other couples are forced into marriage so that one of them can qualify for health insurance. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research group, did a survey last spring and found that 7 percent of adults said someone in their household had married in the past year to gain access to insurance. Seven percent in the last year!
And finally there are couples who remain married only so that one of them with a chronic disease can have health insurance.
Health care costs nationally have more than doubled since 1999, and grew much faster than the 29 percent inflation during that same period. An employee’s average health care cost was $1,543 in 1999 and is now $3,354.
And a health crisis for the elderly or unemployed can bankrupt a family or leave few options. On the other hand, what federal budget could possibly pay all health care costs for all people?
The United States now spends more than $7,000 a year on health care per person.
Although the presidential race has raised the issue of government health care, the Frieces didn’t have time to wait. They used the Medicaid loophole to get some more precious time together.
But that option may be disappearing. Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, and some states, suffering from budget constraints, are cutting back on coverage. Florida will eliminate Medicaid payments to the medically needy next July 1, except for 40,000 people: needy children, the pregnant and the elderly or disabled. That will save the state nearly $700 million.
Some state medical benefits could shut down with the finality of some Wall Street banks.
For many Americans, that is a hard pill to swallow.