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Life in the Coverage Gap Made Worse by Malfunctioning Pacemaker

By: Helen B., Pasco County

My health issues started in 2014 when I started passing out and getting dizzy for no reason. There were times when I wouldn’t even know that I had passed out. I was taken to the hospital several times, but always told they could not find an issue. Heart problems run in my family so I thought my heart might be the issue, but the hospital couldn’t find anything wrong. I got to the point where I would be in bed for two to five days at a time. I started looking for health insurance but couldn’t get any help.

Finally, I got fed up and went to the hospital where they told me I had vertigo. They gave me some medicine to treat it, but it didn’t help. When my fainting and dizzy spells started getting worse, I went back to the hospital. When I got there, they did an EKG and a few other tests. The nurses kept thinking that the machine was broken. They called the doctor in and told him that they couldn’t keep my heart rate over 30 beats per minute. Turns out the machine wasn’t broken. I was rushed to the ICU and told that I needed to have emergency surgery to get a pacemaker.

The doctors discovered that the bottom part of my heart doesn’t work at all or it only works when it wants to work. So, when it’s not working, I get dizzy or pass out. Since I do not have health insurance, I have to pay out of pocket for my pacemaker surgery which was $39,000. That price does not include the hospital stay, anesthesiologist, or other doctors I had to see.

I’d been doing fine with my pacemaker up until about a month and a half ago. I started getting dizzy again. I had a constant pain in my arm, shoulders, back and spine. I told my cardiologist about it. He told me to have an ultrasound on my heart and he would see me in six months. The ultrasound was $140. I saved the money, made the appointment, got there and was told it was $280. The office staff said that there was no way to work around this. So, I left. I ended up back in the ER. They performed so many tests…to the tune of almost $15,000, which I have to pay out of pocket.

They then came back and told me that one of the pacemaker wires that goes into my heart had been displaced. My understanding is that the pacemaker keeps my heart going, but the hospital staff said that fixing the wire was not an emergency. So, I was released. I feel like if I had health insurance, they would have fixed my issues. But since I don’t, they sent me home. I’ve asked the cardiologist about repairing my pacemaker and he told me to call the manufacturer. When I called them, they told me to call the doctor. No one wants to take responsibility. Meanwhile I’m suffering.

I applied for Medicaid but was denied because I don’t have children and I’m not 65 or older. At one point Medicaid sent me a letter saying they wanted to do a phone interview. I called several times and left messages, but no one ever called me back. Then Medicaid sent me a letter saying I was denied, because I didn’t comply with phone interview. It’s unreal! In Florida it’s ok for people to die…it’s no big deal.

I need to see a dentist to fix my upper plate because mine is broken. I need to have some teeth pulled, but I can’t afford to see a dentist. I feel like I’m running into a brick wall all the time. I applied for Social Security Disability and was denied also. I feel like I’m fighting the system to get help. My income is less than $800 a month and funds are really tight. I pay out of pocket to see my doctors and for all medications. My doctors’ visits just went up to $80 a visit. I get medical bills in the mail at least twice a week. If you can tell me how to stretch $800 a month, I’d love to hear it. I’m not going to ever be able to pay all of these bills. You can’t squeeze blood from a rock. Apparently, I fall through every crack there is. I guess the only way I can get help is if I actually have a heart attack or pass out. I don’t want to put my family through that, but what else can I do?

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