Ailing Federal Worker Needs Insurance Renewed to Stay Alive

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An ailing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker in Oregon said she can’t learn why her federally paid insurance lapsed months ago, and she can’t get it reinstated because of the partial government shutdown, leaving her scrambling to find a way to pay for nutrients that keep her alive.

Jasmine Tool, an ailing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker in Oregon, says she can’t learn why her federally paid insurance lapsed months ago and she can’t get it reinstated because of the partial government shutdown. Tool is scrambling to find a way to pay for nutrients that keep her alive. (Jasmine Tool via AP)

Jasmine Tool said she has only enough of the formula that she gets through a feeding tube to last through Friday.

“If don’t get more, I will begin to starve,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The U.S. government has said employees with active insurance will not experience lapses during the shutdown. Tool’s situation is unusual but shows the unexpected ways the shutdown can affect people.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has pointed to Tool’s plight to call for an end to the four-week-long shutdown.

“How can it be that a country as rich and powerful as ours fails Jasmine in such a shameful way?” Wyden said on the Senate floor this week. “There is only one immediate solution. The shutdown must end, and it must end now.”

Tool, 30, has an inoperable but benign brain tumor that’s slowly growing and a paralyzed stomach from a condition called gastroparesis.

Her health issues led her to take medical leave in February 2017 from her job at the Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a stretch of rugged high desert that is home to antelope, pygmy rabbits, bighorn sheep and mountain lions.

She worked at the refuge headquarters in Lakeview and says medical resources in the small town near the California border are scarce.

Tool cannot eat by mouth, so she gets nutrients through a tube in her small intestines and hydration through another tube in her arm. A home health care worker would come weekly to check on her.

For treatment, she would drive six hours to the UC Medical Center in Davis, California. A CAT scan a few days ago showed she had a tumor on an ovary, so she made an appointment closer to home in Carson City, Nevada, but was told her employer-provided insurance was no longer active. 

She called Blue Cross Blue Shield last Friday and was told her coverage had lapsed in October. When Tool asked what happened and how to get it back, she was told she had to call her human resources department. Tool called the federal agency but got only a recording referring to the government shutdown.

The Portland office of Fish and Wildlife Service rings to a recording saying: “Due to a lapse in funding, our office is closed.” The insurer did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Wyden’s office said his staff is in regular contact with Tool and is pressing the federal Office of Personnel Management and state agencies to try to resume her health care coverage.

The provider of the nutrients won’t send more without a home health care worker, Tool said. The worker won’t come unless Tool is covered by insurance or she pays for it herself, which she said she can’t afford.

Tool, who is engaged and has two sons, ages 12 and 7, said she will try to stretch out her remaining packets.

“My biggest issue right now is just getting my feeding supplies,” she said.

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