One in 50 million: Ferguson transfers custody to get daughter health coverage

Who are the roughly 50 million Americans without health insurance, and why don't they have it? The Missourian gives voice to the stories of Boone County residents who live without the safety net of insurance. This is the story of Jodie Ferguson.
Friday, October 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Jodie Ferguson, center, confers with her eight-year-old daughter, Juniper Chrisman, during her turn in a game of Payday at their home in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — As a child, Jodie Ferguson spent many weekends in University Hospital, going through chemotherapy or getting tests done for leukemia. Sometimes her parents were there. Other times, Ferguson was alone with the nausea, vomiting and fatigue of the illness.

She doesn't ever want her 8-year-old daughter, Juniper, to feel that sick. 


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Ferguson, 26, of Columbia is considered cured of acute lymphocytic leukemia, which she contracted at age 12. But she still lives with its effects, namely, being unable to obtain health care coverage she can afford for herself and her daughter on a hairdresser's salary.

So to get her daughter, Juniper, health insurance, Ferguson gave up legal custody of her to her parents, Lawrence and Georgia Ferguson. It was a tough choice she had to make, but it ultimately came down to caring for her daughter before herself.

"If (Juniper) wasn't insured, I would obviously continue taking her to all her checkups and would not hesitate," she said. "But I do hesitate with myself. I don't go (to the doctor) when I'm sick. I tough it out at home."

Despite all the debate on health care reform, one thing many reformists agree on is the need to increase the number of people who are covered, especially by making it illegal to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The disagreement arises over exactly how to achieve that.

Deb Wiethop, spokeswoman for Blue Cross/Blue Shield Missouri, said insurance companies could potentially cover people with pre-existing conditions and give them lower costs, but only "as long as everyone would be required" to have insurance.

"But to do that, there would also need to be subsidies," Wiethop said.

Ferguson's situation is not unusual. Wiethop said insurance companies often increase the cost of coverage when their customers have had a serious or chronic illness.

"If someone has a pre-existing condition and just comes on board, they're going to be using their benefits immediately," Wiethop said. "It's hard to sustain. In a risk pool, you want healthy people as well as unhealthy people because then you have enough dollars coming in."

Wiethop said a "healthy young person" would typically pay about $100 to $200 a month for health care. But when Ferguson and her father were shopping for health insurance options, she learned she would have to pay somewhere between $500 and $600 a month. 

That price tag is much too high for Ferguson, who said she makes about $1,600 to $2,000 plus tips monthly at Studio E hair salon, 10 W. Nifong. She works there five times a week, and also takes classes on Monday and Wednesday nights at Columbia College. 

Although Ferguson's relationship with her parents is good now, she said there was a time they worried her busy schedule would affect the time she spent with Juniper.

"I hate it," Ferguson said about not having custody of her daughter. "If my parents get pissed off at me, they can take her. It just stinks they have the power to do that."

Juniper's father, Hans Chrisman, recently moved from St. Louis to Columbia to help care for Juniper when Ferguson is at work or in class. In addition to living with Juniper, Ferguson shares her home with her sister, Stacy Marian; her niece, Aubrie; and her dog, Peanut.

"It's a good thing because at this point we're both single parents with a child, and we're both in the same situation," Marian said. "We're all very close and able to help each other."

Although Ferguson has a support network around her, she's striving for something more: a career with the good salary and insurance she feels she needs to regain custody of Juniper.

She has a wish for the what's happening in Washington D.C., too.

"I really hope they pass something so that you can't keep people from having insurance because of pre-existing conditions," Ferguson said. "Any change would be needed." 

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connie cashion October 16, 2009 | 9:26 a.m.

I went on disability in 1999 at that time I had supplemental ins but 5 to 6 yrs ago my husband came down sick and couldnt go back to work and while waiting to get him on disability I became the caretaker and had to choose his meds or my ins. Of course to me there was no deciding of course it was his meds and lost my suppliment ins. was told I could reapply but when I did they said sorry once you loose it you can never regain supplement ins if you have extensive illness. I have tried many times but to no avail last time was in this yr and they said I needed to much medical help and surgerys I have no doc because they say i need a specialist and with no supplement ins I cant afford the out of pocket expense Ive been told I dont have a popular disease to get help who knew I should of asked for a different disease lol and Im just above the poverty line so that cuts out any help I lost my port and any medicine that I was recieving I dont trust the gov to give me ins. just because I dont trust the gov. lol Im not depressed over it because I rely on God to see me thru but Im sure there are more out there in the same spot. Not sure when my knees and hip completly give out what I will do but I do know God will take care of me .

(Report Comment)
Barbara Schmidt October 16, 2009 | 9:52 a.m.

We are numbers; statistics. Unfortunately, even to the good people who are trying to help us. I'm not sure if anyone "crunching the numbers" even realizes that we are living, breathing, people who worry about tomorrow, thank God yesterday is over, and try only to live in the right now and sometimes that is very hard. We cry, laugh, get angry, and always worry, worry, worry about "how are we going to make it through". For many of us, any change or help may be too late. It takes so long to make the people who know us as only numbers, statistics.

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