Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

April 28, 2013

Area family contends with crippling medical bills

SUTTONS BAY — Two years ago, Bruce Gokey went to Munson Medical Center's emergency room for treatment of flesh-eating bacteria and suffered a massive heart attack while hospitalized, his sister Ruth Schaub said.

In January, Gokey's health skidded again. He collapsed in his father's Maple City home. A blood clot had formed in his leg and drifted to his lung, triggering a pulmonary embolism. He was transported, unconscious, to Munson, where he suffered a second heart attack. Declared brain dead the next day, he was unable to hear his four siblings' tearful farewells.

Schaub said she learned at the funeral that her brother had been ordered to take blood thinner two years ago, but lacked the money to fill his prescriptions.

“Bruce was pathetically poor. He told his best friend, but not us,” Schaub said. “I don’t know if he was too proud or too private, but this was completely avoidable.”

Michigan lawmakers are considering a simplified and more expansive Medicaid program that would cover impoverished adults like Gokey who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Expanded Medicaid is a key component of the Affordable Care Act and is supported by Gov. Rick Snyder, but opposed by Republican majorities in the state House and Senate.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would fully fund Medicaid for participating states for the first three years. Thereafter, it would fund 90 percent of costs, saving the state millions. The program is intended to help the 37 percent of Michigan workers who receive no health insurance, according to recent figures released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Gokey applied but failed to qualify for state Medicaid, which mostly supports low-income pregnant women and children. Single and childless people under age 65 can't qualify for Medicaid no matter how poor they are unless they're on disability, said Jan Hudson of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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