Corey Johnson is only 25 years old but walks like an old man. He moves slowly and cautiously toward me. I see his face grimace with the last step as he get close enough to shake my hand. A smile creeps easily to his lips and he thanks me for coming to hear his story. Corey would like to be anywhere but living in his mother's home talking to a reporter today. He says he'd like to be working or eating lunch with friends. Or about how outside enjoying the sunshine and walking briskly like so many guys his age are doing at this very minute? Yes, that would be nice, too.
But Corey is unable to work or go out with friends. For almost four years now he's been pretty much confined to home. He has developed so many complications from diabetes that it's hard for me to write them all down as quickly as he can rattle them off. "If you can imagine little needles poking your legs constantly, that's what it feels like," he tells me as he describes diabetic nerve pain that now affects his feet, legs and even part of his back. "I can't stand for long periods of time and even when I sit for long periods of time, it bothers my legs."
And there's more. "I have Retinopathy in my left eye, I have Gastroparesis from the diabetes," he says. He's had Type 1 Diabetes since age 11. He managed okay until high school. But after that, complications began and the more he was unable to see a regular doctor, the worse things became.
His mom, Patrice Simmons, worked as a corrections officer until she was attacked by a juvenile she was guarding. Her foot was severely injured and she finally had to go on disability. Corey has been unable to work for some time so the two are trying to make it on Patrice's income which is about $1,000 per month. She says most days she's worried. "It boils down to - do I pay my light bill or do I get his medication, do I pay something else or do I take him to the doctor," she says.
So when the Affordable Care Act went into effect the two eagerly went online to try to find out if there might be a policy they could afford for Corey. But they quickly discovered there was no help for someone like Corey. He's in what I have come to refer to in the news room as the "Medicaid Gap". He is actually too poor to qualify for a subsidy to help him buy insurance and as the new health care law was designed, that would mean he would automatically be put on the Medicaid rolls in his state. (Medicaid is a state run program that provides medical services to the low income. The federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid to people like Corey for the first three years of the expansion and 90 percent thereafter.)
But many governors in Red States refused to expand the Medicaid Program. In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal told me last year he had "little confidence the federal government could continue to pay the billions that would be necessary for the full expansion. And when it doesn't work, the states will be left with more people on Medicaid rolls and told to take care of it ourselves."
So Corey has found himself in this "gap" where he can't get help to buy insurance and the way he looks at it - his own state will not assist him. "I try to keep faith," he says. "I try to keep telling myself things will get better somehow. But if I can't see the doctors I need to see my condition will only continue getting worse."
Patrice does what she can. She takes him to the local clinic where she often has to pay something, but at least he's seen by medical personnel. "But the people there tell me all the time he needs to be seen by an Endocrinologist he needs to see a Neurologist because those are the one who specialize in diabetes," she says.
"But I'm pretty much stuck in the same place I was before," Corey says.
Corey is one of an estimated 600,000 people in Georgia who would qualify for the Medicaid expansion. After trying to buy insurance and quickly realizing it would never happen, he applied for Medicaid again a month or two ago. He was quickly rejected. Ironically, his rejection letter referred him to the Affordable Care Act website.
Patrice says his ongoing medical crisis is creating a financial crisis for the family. That is usually the case. An illness and the cost to try to cure and or manage the illness is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in America. She worries that her son is depressed and running out of hope. "He's at an age where he should be out with his friends but most of the time he's here with me," she says.
"I usually end up staying in my room," he tells me. "I can't really get around well enough to do much else."
Tuesday, members of the House Judiciary Committee at the Georgia Statehouse voted to put forth a bill to have the legislature make any future decisions on whether to expand Medicaid. Some critics claim that's to ensure that no matter who might be the governor, that the program will never be enlarged to include more people like Corey.
Recently, four Georgia hospitals close their doors. Supporters of the Medicaid expansion argue one factor is the fact that Georgia is "not" receiving up to $4 Billion in federal reimbursements.
However it turns out, this will be another long day for Corey and his mother. Another day of worry and trying to keep the faith. "It's been tough on me and my mom, I don't like to think about what would happen to me if I didn't have her," he says.
I contacted Governor Nathan Deal's office today by email and left a voicemail. I wanted reaction to the concerns raised by Corey and his mom. We have received no call back or email at this point.
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