With his common-law wife of 25 years dying at hospice, Bill Measimer went home to the little house they shared and painted the porch swing that was her favorite spot.
For days, Measimer, 83, would show up at the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House at Rock Hill’s Hospice & Community Care to see Margie Hancock, 75, with paint on his hands, on his nose, on his clothes.
“Wanted it to look nice for her when she came home,” said Measimer, a Marine Corps veteran long retired from heating and air work and apartment maintenance who survives on Social Security and a small savings. An oxygen tank gives the house music.
“I prayed for that woman not to suffer,” Measimer said. “I prayed that God would be merciful.”
This is a couple who met while dancing at a club a quarter-century ago and never parted. Great loves always start over a martini and a shag dance, eyes meeting in the muted light while The Trammps sing “Hold Back The Night,” with the late Jimmy Ellis of Rock Hill on vocals.
Medicaid would have paid for the more than a year Hancock spent in nursing and hospice care, but this woman who worked in a mill, then in customer service at Lowe’s, had too much money to qualify. She was on Medicare, but it did not cover end of life care.
Hancock could not walk and could not bathe herself in the bathroom of the modular mobile home she lived in. She received $780 a month from Social Security, but somebody with the government said she had too much dough.
“She had about $89,000 in a 401k (retirement account) at the start,” Measimer said, “but that went fast. We never applied before because we weren’t poor enough for her to get Medicaid. We had to be able to show my Margie was broke to get Medicaid.”
Bills came from hospitals and doctors for co-pays and the small percentage that people like Hancock have to cover themselves, and Measimer paid them off, a bit at a time. The “tail-end” medical bills, as Measimer called them, added up – $130 here, a few hundred there. There was medicine and transportation and more to pay for.
The bills Measimer had for his wife are stuffed into folders and envelopes that cover tables and ledges in their little house.
“Paid them enough to keep me out of jail for being a deadbeat,” Measimer said. “I didn’t want her owing anything. Didn’t want anybody to say we tried anything underhanded. We pay our bills. She worked her whole life, from the time she was young.
“At the end, all that work went for nothing.”
Hancock battled and fought her many health problems. Hospice & Community Care, which accepts insurance and Medicaid, also accepts patients without an ability to pay. The hospice and its residence for terminal people such as Hancock relies on donations, gifts and more to help those patients, said Jennifer Graham, marketing director for hospice.
“We were trying to get the application for Medicaid approved,” Graham said. “This is a woman who worked her whole life. And when she needed help at the end, the approval never came. But she needed care, and we were proud to be able to provide it.”
There were Medicaid questions about income and savings, and the red tape was what red tape is.
“Bogged down,” said John Hancock, Margie’s son and one of her two kids from a previous marriage. “That’s the system. That’s how it works.”
Measimer and his wife had talked about death and he worked out the costs of cremation and funeral. The cost would be $2,973.65.
“The last $2,600 she had – we had spent everything from checking, savings, 401k that she had – went toward that,” Measimer said. “I added in the rest, and it was paid for.”
After Measimer paid the funeral home, he was so sick from intestinal and heart ailments that he had to go to the hospital. Before sunrise Monday, he was in the emergency room. At the same time, Hancock died at the hospice house.
Measimer, crying, with tubes in his nose and chest, had expected to be at her bedside for her last breath.
“I just hope nobody else ever has to go through what she did,” Measimer said.
It is too late now for Medicaid to help Margie Hancock, who died after six decades of work and savings and thriftiness. Her life ended without a penny left.