After 33 years of marriage, Larry and Linda Drain have been ripped apart by Tennessee's health care laws.
As they described first to The Tennessean and to HuffPost Live on Tuesday, the couple falls into their state's "coverage gap" because their income is too high to qualify for TennCare, Tennessee's public insurance program, and too low to qualify for federal subsidies under Obamacare.
After Larry opted for early retirement last fall, the Drains were told that his retirement benefits surpassed the limit on unearned income. That set off a domino effect. Larry's retirement check eliminated Linda's SSI benefits, and without those she was ineligible for TennCare. Linda would also be disqualified from TennCare if the couple had monthly income higher than $85, so another job for Larry wouldn't fix anything. The couple would have been covered if Tennessee expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, but the state has elected not to do so.
The stakes are high. Linda has debilitating epilepsy, and as Larry told HuffPost Live's Ricky Camilleri, "she can't lose her insurance or she will die." So the couple made a heart-wrenching decision.
"We cussed and discussed and prayed and screamed and hollered and looked at all the options, and we figured out for the month of January, we would have $30 to live on for the entire month. In February it would get worse, and in March it would get worse than that. So on Dec. 26, after 33 years of marriage, we decided to separate," Larry explained.
Linda is now living with her mother in an effort to keep her household income low enough to regain her SSI while she looks for a new residence, with little success.
"We've been apart now for what seems like forever, but I guess about six months. She's still looking for a place to live," Larry said. "When you're talking about an income based on disability, housing is almost impossible to find. We're caught in a perfect storm."
The couple described to HuffPost Live the severe emotional toll the separation has taken on them. They've lost not only the physical help they depend on one another for, but also the mental stability that comes with having a lifelong partner.
"You don't realize how much you miss each other until you don't see each other. You don't realize how much you worry until the other person is not there," Larry said. "You don't realize how many different things are important to you that aren't so important when you're all by yourself."
Larry now writes daily letters to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, begging him to expand Medicaid. On the morning of his interview with HuffPost Live, Larry wrote his 45th letter. With no response yet, the couple faces an uncertain future. Larry said he may eventually be forced to become homeless if nothing changes. The idea terrifies Linda.
"I would hate to see my husband out there away from home, knowing he's at this exhaustion point, and I could do nothing, and I would want to hold him and have him with me," Linda said.