Updated: Oct 15
"I've done 37 years of work. I’ve done everything my country has asked me to do. I’ve paid taxes. I’ve carried insurance. But then I had the audacity to get sick.”
Danielle Byers is now 56 years old and has worked all kinds of jobs since she was 17: manual labor, waitressing, bartending, gas stations, fast food, and more. She has often worked two jobs to finish raising both her children after divorcing her husband once his drug addiction took over. She proudly shared that both her children are college educated and on their own now. A few years ago, she remarried, and her husband receives a disability check due to a terrible accident in 2001. Once her health forced her to quit working, they have only his $1200 a month check to pay all their bills.
While in her last job, doctors told her she couldn't go back to work. With thyroid nodules, COPD, degenerative disc disease, non-essential tremors, fibromyalgia, severe osteoarthritis, and four nodules on lungs, she struggles to function sufficiently. The pain medication was all that allowed her to get out of bed in the morning, and she recently lost even her ability to access that. Unable to qualify for TennCare or afford Marketplace coverage, she had to leave her primary care doctor of 17 years in Oak Ridge and now occasionally visits Interfaith Clinics in Knoxville, for which she has to borrow money to even meet the generous 90% discounts.
Danielle feels angry that she's paid into social security for 37 years and can't get those benefits when she needs them. After two years of waiting for a court date regarding her disability application, and after witnessing the legislature’s failure to pass Insure Tennessee, she is grieving, “I’m so disappointed in this state. I shouldn’t have to leave the state I love and move to Kentucky to get insurance, even though my own representative told me I should move. It is a very sad thing when you are going to vote on the Bible as state book but not vote on providing people with affordable health coverage. Maybe they should read some of the pages in the Bible! I can’t even imagine how those 24,000 veterans feel.”
She continued, “I don’t see how those folks sleep at night, refusing to vote for our health insurance when we pay for theirs. I sure hope one of their children doesn’t end up in the gap. Cause I'm not asking for a free ride. I just want a little bit of insurance so I can be here just a little big longer, for my family. I'll gladly pay premiums."
In the end, Danielle says she wouldn’t erase all the pain she’s experienced in this process. “Because of what I’ve gone through I’m more compassionate. I care about other people.” She prays that one day she sees this same compassion in her elected officials.