By Jenny Neyman
At first glance, Jackie Tomrdle’s family doesn’t appear to be in a dangerous financial situation. She, her husband, Arvo, and four kids live in a spacious home off Kalifornsky Beach Road with a well-kept yard and a well-fed dog. An SUV is parked out front. Inside, a flat-screen TV faces leather furniture in the living room.
Jackie works at a local gym and Arvo is a commercial gillnet fisherman in the Copper River and Prince William Sound in the summer, and works on the North Slope in the winter. Their income allows them a moderate, middle-class lifestyle, with the perks and comforts that brings — or so it seems, at least.
What their income does not allow is the ability to afford health insurance. Without it, they not only cannot afford to pay the full costs of doctors visits and prescriptions to treat 2-year-old Isabella’s severe allergies, they also can’t protect themselves against the very real possibility that their outwardly middle-class existence could be wiped out at any time by one serious medical situation.
“We just do what we can do,” Jackie Tomrdle said. “The biggest thing is the day-to-day stuff with children who have medical issues. But then there’s also the issue that if one of us gets hurt, we could lose everything. And that weighs heavily.”
The Tomrdles aren’t living in abject poverty, for which Jackie is grateful. But some aspects of life would be easier if they did fall into the guidelines for poverty. At least then she and her kids would qualify for Denali KidCare, the state-assistance medical program for children and mothers with low incomes.
Eligibility guidelines consider monthly income, and with Arvo’s seasonal work, the Tomrdles don’t qualify for state assistance, she said.
“Being a commercial fishing family, it really puts us in a hard position. In order to fish, you need to have time to fish and you need, not just time to actually fish, but time in preparation to get your boat ready and your gear ready and basic maintenance. … On paper, we look like we earn too much money,” Tomrdle said. Continue reading