A Tennessee couple, married for 33 years, has been forced to separate in order to keep their health insurance.
Larry and Linda Drain recently told The Tennessean they were forced apart because they were left in a coverage gap created by the Affordable Care Act and a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The couple’s household income was too low for them to qualify for a government subsidy to buy health insurance and Tennessee has not expanded its Medicaid program to people who don’t qualify for the subsidy.
The Affordable Care Act, which is sometimes referred to as Obamacare, originally expanded Medicaid coverage to couples who found themselves in the Drains’ predicament, but the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law, leaving Medicaid expansion up to individual states.
Nine Southern states refused to expand Medicaid following the decision, leaving over 4 million Southerners in the coverage gap, according to Colorado News Day. The Drains are among 162,000 couples in Tennessee who find themselves in the gap.
But 62-year-old Larry Drain says he also blames himself.
“In September of last year, I made what looking back on it in retrospect was the worst decision I ever made in my entire life,” he said. “I decided to take early retirement from Social Security.”
His wife, Linda, suffers from severe epilepsy and cannot be without health insurance.
Even though Larry Drain was making less from his monthly Social Security benefit than he was while he was working, his decision changed the eligibility requirements for his wife to continue receiving Supplemental Security Income.
If she continued to live with her husband she would have lost that benefit and would have no longer qualified for the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare.
“After one or two months of crying and lots of prayers and lots of yelling and screaming, on Dec. 26 — after 33 years of marriage — we separated,” Larry Drain said.
Linda Drain now lives with her mother while Larry Drain lives alone in the small apartment the couple once shared.
He said he writes a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam every day, asking him to expand Medicaid in the state. Drain posts the letters on his personal blog.
“In some ways, it is like a virtual sit-in,” he said. “I couldn't go sit in his office, but in some way I need to say, ‘I am here. I am going to be here. I'm going to talk about things you don't want talked about.’”