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Tennesseans are drowning in medical debt

Posted at 3:56 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-06 13:09:52-04

TULLAHOMA, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tammy Bain can no longer stand the pressure of checking her mail every morning, the piles of medical bills that sit on her counter are mostly unopened, it’s too stressful to look at them anymore.

This 48-year-old is drowning in medical debt and the daily onslaught of bills only serves as a painful reminder of money she doesn’t have. And healthcare coverage she can’t get.

“It’s a horrible feeling knowing that I’ve been responsible for bills my entire adult life but I can’t pay a single thing, it’s a reminder of how I can’t take care of myself,” Tammy Bain says sitting on the edge of a tree stump in the middle of a mobile home park in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Tammy’s story is the story of thousands of Tennesseans struggling with medical debt.

It started when she was just a toddler. Tammy was accidentally run over by a lawnmower causing a severe injury to her left leg. For the better part of five decades, Tammy suffered with back pain and walking issues because of the injury.

Then, in 2017, under the advice of her doctors Tammy Bain made the hardest decision of her life.

“I decided that the best thing I could do was have the amputation. It was the biggest decision of my life,” Tammy says as a cool spring breeze pushes her long brown hair back behind her shoulders.

At the time of the amputation, Tammy was on short-term disability from her job at DirectTV. After the operation she returned to work only to realize that the stress of the amputation was proving to be too much. Doctors eventually diagnosed her with PTSD and she was forced to resign from her job.

That’s when she lost her insurance and Tammy was left dealing with a new kind of pain. The burden of not being able to pay her mounting medical bills.

“It just makes me feel helpless,” she says.

With no job, no insurance and an amputation to recover from, Tammy quickly acquired nearly $50,000 in medical bills. Only making matters worse was that her prosthetic leg was too large, causing her constant pain almost daily.

With no income, this 48-year-old, life-long worker who’d never missed a credit card payment in her life suddenly found herself homeless.

“I’m surviving on food stamps, that’s all I get for help. I have friends who take me in. I lost my home, I lost my income. It’s just been terrible. When you’re recovering from an amputation you want a quiet place to heal. I don’t even have a home,” Tammy said, her voice trailing off.

Like thousands of other Tennesseans stuck in the same position with no health insurance, Tammy’s only safety net when it comes to medical care is now the Emergency Room. Which only adds to the medical bills that arrive every day.

“When I’m in crisis, I have to go to the E.R. I’ve been to the Emergency Room 20 times in the last nine months,” she explains.

Because of her lack of income, Terry doesn’t qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. A judge recently ruled she should be eligible for Medicare but that coverage won’t erase the debt she’s already incurred.

So she’s doing her best to navigate a healthcare system that has largely let her down.

“I’m just doing the best that I can with what I have.”