Douglas and Anita "Annie" Gervais weren't watching the big health care summit in Washington at their St. Paul apartment this afternoon. There's not much they need to know about health care that they haven't learned firsthand. And there's nothing going on there that will save them from what's going to happen here in the next 24 hours.
A couple of miles away from the Gervais' apartment, the Minnesota Senate overrode Gov. Pawlenty's veto of a bill that would extend a program providing health care to the state's poorest citizens. The fate of the override effort in the House, however, is less clear. "If they would get out and see the people he (Gov. Pawlenty) is trying to shut the door on..." Douglas Gervais says, without finishing the sentence.
Annie has breast cancer. Douglas, who has had a kidney transplant, has mental health issues. They'd be wondering how they're going to provide for themselves when MinnesotaCare cuts them off if they weren't preoccupied with where they're going to live after tomorrow.
Mrs. Gervais, 48, was a victim of the collapsing economy before the cancer moved in. She was an assembly line temporary worker at Colder Products Company in St. Paul until the hours started drying up last spring. "Finally, they didn't call at all," she said today. A few months later, she felt a lump in her breast. A mastectomy followed, and now she's undergoing once-a-week chemotherapy.
"I put applications for work in, but that chemo really knocks me out," she says. Her husband works as a building manager but his hours have been cut to about 10 a week. He's trying to care for his wife, but his mental health issues have flared with every piece of bad news. He recently checked himself into the mental health unit at Regions Hospital.
"My nerves are completely shot. I have to work around her appointments," he says. "When she's down, I'm the caregiver. I'm a lunatic trying to care for her."
MinnesotaCare has been providing coverage for most of the health care costs. Their $40 monthly premium had been cut to $16 and now to $8. "I've got the monthly bill here," she says, "but I don't have $8."
She also doesn't have the $720 rent payment that's overdue. Last week, the couple went to court to learn that they have to be out of their apartment by Friday if they don't come up with the rent, plus penalties, which now totals $1,145. The Minneapolis-based Angel Foundation, which provides financial assistance to cancer patients, helped pay last month's rent but while it bought them some time, it didn't buy an answer or a job.
"If we have to, we'll live in the truck," Douglas says. They'll have to. Even if that's a solution to their housing, it's not a solution to their health care. "Look at all these medications we have to take. A $3 co-pay doesn't sound like much, but it adds up pretty quick."
They may qualify for free health care. Annie has an appointment with a Ramsey County financial aid worker on Friday morning. But most other efforts are stuck in a fact of life -- it takes time, and the couple doesn't have it. A disability application with Social Security hasn't been processed yet and even if everything fall into place, the earliest they can get help is April.
(Bob Collins writes the News Cut blog for Minnesota Public Radio.)