For Christmas dinner, Maria Beaulieu had her usual -- a smoothie.
The 61-year-old Grand Falls, N.B., resident hasn’t been able to eat anything solid for years. Her lower jaw isn’t strong enough to handle dentures, let alone chew the food.
She lives off purées and smoothies -- even a banana is too much.
“It’s really miserable, and frustrating,” she said in an interview with CTV Atlantic from her home.
“Eating disorders didn’t help, that’s for sure. But now that I’ve survived it, I’m trying to eat well and be positive. But it’s really a struggle every day.”
Beaulieu says she had anorexia and bulimia as a young adult that stemmed from trauma she suffered as a child. She says, at one point, she weighed 61 pounds.
Her jaw has deteriorated to the point she needs dental implants so she can eat normal food. But it’s not covered by Medicare.
“I just want to say to the world that this is medical. It’s not cosmetic,” she said.
Her healthcare providers agree.
Documents and letters show her family doctor and dental surgeon have sent requests to the province, explaining why Beaulieu needs the implants for medical reasons.
In one letter to the Department of Health over eight years ago, her family doctor said Beaulieu was “a significant burden on the healthcare system” and that her chronic pain could “be greatly improved, if not resolved by dental intervention.”
He encouraged the province to “provide funding for the proposed dental intervention.”
Two years ago, her dental surgeon sent another letter, saying Beaulieu has “very advanced atrophy” and that she’s at risk for breaking the bone in her jaw if she doesn’t get the treatment as quickly as possible.
With help from her MLA, Chuck Chiasson, she has appealed Medicare’s decision.
In one response dated July 14, 2020, an official said: “Medicare is mandated to pay physicians for medically necessary entitled services.”
But it later said: “Medicare does not pay for devices including dentures or services provided by dentists in their offices, even if the dental problems cause medical problems.”
Chiasson says, if the implants were done in a hospital, it would be covered.
“There should be a quick review of this and it would be determined that it’s medically necessary and that the government should be paying for this service,” he said. “It’s not the same as getting a tooth implant or something like that. Maria needs this in order to eat.”
Beaulieu took out an over $8,000 payday loan to pay for the first phase of what she needs. She’s looking at another almost $16,000 worth of procedures.
She says an official told her to try crowdfund the rest.
Despite the mental and physical obstacles, Beaulieu says she was able to come off her CPP disability over 10 years ago.
She got her certificate in peer counselling, and operates a mental health support program in the Grand Falls area.
But she still can’t afford the treatment. Her next procedure is scheduled for Feb. 18.
“I’m going to postpone it or maybe even cancel it, because there’s no way I can find the money, I cannot afford it,” she said. “I’m fighting for it because I need it to go on with my life, a normal life, so I can eat normally, and get my strength so I can do my daily job.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard cannot comment on individual cases, citing privacy legislation.
Chiasson says he’s been told by Shephard that Medicare is still reviewing the case.