Money for healthcare

You don’t want to go out this way.

Portillo’s insurance through her employer—she works nights cleaning offices for the City of Houston—didn’t cover her father, and the family couldn’t afford to buy insurance for him. They tried to determine if he could qualify for Medicare, the federal health benefit for the aging, or Medicaid, the state-run health insurance for the poor, but were given conflicting responses depending on whom they talked to. Confused by the requirements and limited by her poor English, Portillo applied for Medicaid for her father, but never got a response. So, for the better part of a year, the Portillos carted Aquilino back and forth to the emergency room in a wheelchair, where they would wait for hours, sometimes all night, simply to have his pain medications refilled.

As Aquilino’s condition worsened, he could no longer be moved from his bed to see a doctor. His body was riddled with tumors. His legs became too heavy for him to move, and his pain became unbearable. “It was ugly, ugly and scary, to see a loved one dying,” Portillo says in Spanish. “And if that person is your father, it’s something indescribable.”

By the time Portillo found out about a small county program that sends health workers to the homes of low-income, bedridden patients, her father had been at home without pain medication for two and a half months. The nurse practitioner who came, spurred by Aquilino’s obvious suffering, rushed to order medication to make him more comfortable. Two days later, when the morphine had barely had a chance to soothe him, he was gone.


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