Red Light, Green Light, and the Medicaid Run Around!
By: Vicky C., Pinellas County
I had my thyroid removed about twenty years ago when I was a college student in Tallahassee. I’ve been on Synthroid, a medication that replaces the hormone, ever since. I ran out of Synthroid a while back and started having health problems. One morning my roommate found me on the living room floor. He asked me what I was doing down there, and I told him that I’d fallen off the couch. When he told me to just get up, I told him I couldn’t. My legs had given out on me. I wasn’t able to sit up by myself. I felt like I was in that TV commercial – I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up. He rushed me to the hospital where I stayed for about a week. That’s when I learned about the horrible consequences of not having my thyroid medication. You eventually have what’s looks and feels like a stroke. If you’re not treated right away, you can end up in a coma-like state. The thyroid is really that important to your body. Without it, or the medication, it can cause everything in your body to collapse. That’s what happened to me. When I stopped taking my medication, I gained 107 pounds of water weight. Once I got to the hospital, I lost all 107 pounds in three days. I popped just like a water balloon. After that I went to nursing facility for rehab. I heard to learn to walk all over again.
If I’d had insurance, I would have left the nursing facility with a home health nurse and equipment, like a walker. I’m uninsured, so my son went dumpster diving and found me an old walker with the seat. I’m thankful because I wouldn’t be able to get around without it.
When I got home, I started trying to apply for Medicaid. It has been an extremely frustrating process. I was told that the first step in the process is to apply for food stamps. The food stamp application asks you eight other questions to see if you need other types of help the state provides, like temporary assistance, unpaid medical bills, and health insurance. I said yes to each of the questions. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) sent me a letter a few months later. The letter said that I needed to call them within 60 days to see if they could help me with my other issues. I called and was surprised to hear that my 60 days had expired. I was in shock! How can this be? I read the DCF rep the date on the letter from her office. She said that the 60 days started the day I hit the submit button on my food stamp application. Who knew? Certainly not me! Since my 60 days had expired, I had to wait until my 6-month food stamp renewal date to apply for Medicaid. After the renewal, I received the same letter. But, this time, the letter was dated in the future - it hadn’t even passed yet. I called and explained this to DCF. I asked her to pull up my file so that she could see that this had happened before. She said there was no record of my call. Apparently, they do not keep case notes when people call in, which is very odd to me. I worked for years in the technology support field and we had to document every call.
Applying for Medicaid is like playing a game of ‘Red Light, Green Light.’ You have to pass through each green light before you can get to the next one. If you pass through a red light, you have to go back to the beginning and wait. Meanwhile you’re sick, suffering, and need help. I’ve learned to ask to speak with a Supervisor each time I call. When I finally talked with a Supervisor, she told me that I needed to fill out the application all over again. When I told her that I didn’t have a computer or access to a computer, she said that I should fill out a paper copy. Well, I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis and both of my hands are badly twisted. I can’t even write my own name. Not to mention that I don’t have 40 cents for a stamp. They make all kinds of assumptions about you over the phone. I don’t have a computer or Internet. The library has been closed because of the pandemic.
My last letter from DCF said that I’m ineligible for Medicaid because I’m not 65, don’t have children, and am not disabled. I disagreed with the disabled part, so I called my doctor and asked him if DCF had ever contacted his office to inquire about my health. He told me no. So, how could DCF come to this conclusion when they never checked?
I worked my whole life, but I’m just not able to work anymore. I finally hired an attorney to help me apply for social security disability. I’ve been denied two or three times, but that’s normal. I also have high blood pressure. When I ran out of my blood pressure medication, my friends and family started sharing theirs with me. I’ve been seeing the nurses at the local county health department and my blood pressure is almost normal. My thyroid is good, but the balance is still off. My speech is slurred and it’s hard for me to speak. I take pictures of my hands each month and you can see that the RA is getting worse. Every finger and knuckle is swollen. I was hit by a car in 2016 and my doctor thinks I may have some collateral damage from that accident. They sent me to see a neurologist and want to send me to another.
Currently I’m living without water or utilities. Friends keep telling me to try and get into an assisted living facility. That would be nice, but you have to have Medicaid to get into a facility. It doesn’t matter that I have no income. Expanding Medicaid has got to happen in Florida. Legislators ask, ‘do Floridians need help?’ I’m here to tell them ‘yes, they do!’