Woman Divorces to Afford Life-Saving Surgery

Ind. woman says she divorced in order to pay for throat cancer surgery.

Dec. 5, 2008— -- An Indiana woman with advanced throat cancer says she had to divorce her husband to afford a life-saving surgery.

Geneva Sharpe, 47, says she was diagnosed in March with cancer. One month later surgeons "cut me from ear to ear," she told ABC News.com, removing her voice box and saving her life.

With the aid of a mechanical larynx, Sharpe said that because her husband Freddie Sharpe was collecting disability insurance, the couple's combined income disqualified her from receiving enough Medicaid money to cover the cost of her treatment.

"If we didn't get a divorce, I wouldn't be alive today," said Sharpe who says she worked as a nurse for 16 years and admits to smoking cigarettes for twice that long.

"Welfare and Medicaid wouldn't help me," she said. "I tried everything to get help with my medical bills. No matter what, it always seemed we're going to be a dollar over the limit to get help with my medicine."

Sharpe, who lives in Franklin, Ind., said she and her husband Freddie, 57, did not want to get divorced but that she needed to be single to be eligible for Medicaid.

Freddie, she said, had worked at a local car parts manufacturer but after an injury was put on disability and "forced into retirement."

Freddie was traveling and unavailable for comment.

The pair officially divorced in July.

Though the couple had "some marital trouble," Sharpe said neither would have looked to divorce if not for the "hundreds of thousands of dollars this would have cost."

"Neither of us wanted this. Freddie wanted to do whatever it took to make sure I got the surgery, but he didn't want this," she said. "We had no other options."

Officials at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, however, told ABC News that the agency tried to let Sharpe know there was an alternative to dissolving the marriage.

The state says it investigated the Sharpes for possible fraud last May, suspecting that the couple was lying about living together to claim their household income was less than what they reported.

Medicaid Waiver

The investigation was dropped and Geneva Sharpe was enrolled by the agency in the Aged and Disabled Waiver program to allow her to qualify for Medicaid without getting divorced, said Lauren Auld, a spokeswoman for the FSSA. This happened after the couple was already divorced.

"We sent someone to [Sharpe's] house to inform her that qualified for the waiver. It is important for the client to find the best possible program to fit their needs. The waiver is appropriate for her to be on," Auld said.

Sharpe said she was never told about the waiver program and that an FSAA employee was the first to suggest the couple divorce.

Sharpe said she and Freddie do not live together. One state official, who asked not be identified, suggested the couple remain divorced despite Sharpe being granted the waiver because of problems in their marriage rather than anything to do with accessing healthcare.

Sharpe said the couple lived separately to avoid being the subject of another fraud investigation, but that she saw Freddie regularly and he routinely drove her to medical appointments. She is screened for cancer every three months.

"Of course we want to remarry, but if we do it will change everything. I need this care," she said.