Uninsured Cary woman struggling to battle cancer
Posted December 29, 2015
Updated December 31, 2015
Cary, N.C. — The last time Cheryl Handy saw an oncologist for her cancer and chronic bone infection was in 2012 when she was working in Chicago.
Now, the Cary woman is dying of untreated cancer because she cannot afford health insurance. The sickness forced Handy out of a job, and she was turned down for Medicaid.
Since then, she has had no follow up, no cancer care and no treatment for the bone infection.
Handy moved back to her hometown of Cary to take care of her dad, who later died of colon cancer. She's now taking care of her 80-year-old mother and does not work outside the home.
Most days, she's weak and in pain.
"I need medical care in order to be healthy enough to be an employee to be able to work outside the house," Handy said. "As my health deteriorates, it makes me (a) less reliable employee, so I can't get a job."
Handy tried to get coverage through the federal government's online insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov, but it would have cost nearly $900 a month, and she didn't qualify for subsidies – those whose incomes are below 100 percent of the federal poverty line do not qualify for tax credits from the Affordable Care Act.
"I didn't have proof of income," Handy said. "My mom has Social Security, and that's our household income, but I don't have personal income."
The next option would be Medicaid, but childless adults in North Carolina don't qualify unless they are disabled.
Handy filed for disability, but she was denied because her medical records were too old.
She said she can't get updated medical assessments because doctors won't treat her.
"These oncologists literally will hang up the phone on me as soon as I say I don't have insurance," Handy said.
Handy said she wants to work if she could just get healthy.
"Oh my goodness, yes. Yes, I do," Handy said. "I went to law school. I passed the bar in Illinois. I'm an intelligent person. I just have to be healthy."
Handy is working to get her paralegal certification. If she succeeds, she might be able to work from home and afford health care.
Until then, however, Handy is frustrated and worried.
"I feel the mass under my armpit, and I get scared," Handy said.
Handy said she reached out to state leaders, but all she got was political rhetoric.
Republicans told her that her situation means the Affordable Care Act needs to go. Democrats said it's another example of why North Carolina needs to expand Medicaid.
"Meanwhile, people like me are just sitting there saying, 'We don't need to repeal right now. We don't need to expand Medicaid. You need to realize there's a problem,'" Handy said. "Until the politicians realize the difficulties some of us are having managing the system, then they can't fix the system."
There are other options for care available for people battling cancer. Project Access is a program that connects low-income patients with the health care they need. The Pretty in Pink Foundation provides financial assistance for North Carolinians fighting breast cancer. The CCC Safety Net Clinic Referral List finds locations that provide primary care to people with limited or no income. Care Share Health Alliance helps communities coordinate care and other resources for underserved people through collaboration.