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The Trump Aide Bankrupted by a Single Illness
6.23.17 2:15 AM ET
Before he was Donald Trump’s White House social-media coordinator, Dan Scavino lived with his wife, Jennifer, in a 2,900-square-foot colonial-style home on a winding residential street in Hopewell Junction, New York. The couple’s half-million-dollar dream home had four bedrooms, central air, and a yard plenty big for two sons and two Portuguese water dogs to play in. A Mercedes Benz GL550 and a leased Toyota Avalon sat in their three-car driveway.
The Scavinos were an aspirational archetype of American success. Dan had risen from a lowly caddy at one of Trump’s golf courses to an executive in Trump’s golfing empire, all before he hit 40. He had his own business, Scavino & Associates, that operated from their home. But, despite their good fortune, like many American families the Scavinos were one illness away from economic catastrophe. Their 2015 bankruptcy filing, retrieved by The Daily Beast, tells another quintessentially American story.
Jennifer Scavino has suffered from chronic Lyme disease for over a decade (Dan has tweeted frequently about his wife’s condition, and, for the last two years, had been a vocal advocate for Lyme disease awareness and research). In 2014 and 2015, Dan quit working to care for her, and the only income the family was earning was from Jennifer’s disability benefits, plus Social Security payments for the children. They racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit-card debt and medical bills. Even with a $48,000 loan from her parents, the financial stress of the house, cars, and raising their sons was too much. On July 31, 2015, the Scavinos filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Chronic Lyme disease is an issue of contention in the medical community. Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics and doesn’t continue to live in the body after the initial infection. Patients who say they have it suffer from an array of symptoms, from rheumatism to fatigue to other neurological problems. However, according to a study hosted on the National Institutes of Health website, CLD “has no clinical definition and is not characterized by any objective clinical findings.” Its symptoms mirror fibromyalgia, another amorphous neurological condition, and CLD is sometimes diagnosed by exclusion, which means it’s something doctors will say their patients have when everything else has been ruled out.
But CLD’s lack of a medical definition means a long road to diagnosis and an even longer road to relief. In the aforementioned study, only 2.1 percent of surveyed doctors in Connecticut, one of the regions of the country where CLD is most prevalent, said they’d diagnosed patients with CLD.
Patients who complain of CLD symptoms are certainly suffering from something, but doctors aren’t sure what, one medical professional told The Daily Beast. Self-anointed celebrity Lyme disease activists like Yolanda Foster (the mother of millennial beigecore models Gigi and Bella Hadid) have added a degree of seeming legitimacy to the condition and made more people aware that the mysterious and debilitating symptoms they’re suffering from could be CLD. “Most doctors,” the medical professional added, “don’t think chronic Lyme disease is a thing.”
On a practical level, that means families unlucky enough to face a mysterious chronic neurological condition spend a lot of time and energy figuring out what’s wrong before they can even get to a treatment stage. The Scavinos owed about $48,000 in outstanding medical bills at the time of their bankruptcy filing. In addition, they owed $10,292 to a clinic that specializes in treatments for rare disorders, providing blood transfusions and intravenous drug treatments. Dan has noted, via Twitter, that the condition has cost his family $300,000 over the years.
Months before they filed for bankruptcy, Dan tweeted a photo of one such treatment along with the caption, “My amazing wife, Jennifer has Chronic Inflammatory Polyneuropathy Disease from a tick, resulting in Lyme Disease. We are both 39 years old. 10 years of this awful neurological disease, she is my hero. Not once feeling sorry for herself or really even talking about it outside of our home. While I had to leave my career, I have and will be with her every step of the way. Today is treatment day. Thoughts & prayers to everyone & anyone with neurological disease.”
The Scavino family was lucky, about as lucky as a family struck with chronic illness can be. Jennifer had parents who were in a position to lend them $48,000. They didn’t have to uproot and move to a more affordable town. They were able to keep their house and car and dogs, which, almost charmingly, were listed as worth $0 on the Chapter 7 filing. And Dan’s post-bankruptcy career turned out just fine. He returned to work at his eponymous consultancy firm, eventually landing a job in Trump’s White House. Information caddy to the free world.
Despite Dan’s extraordinary position, the Scavinos are, in their financial problems, typical. They endured something that happens to thousands of families a year. Insurmountable medical bills cause more bankruptcies in the U.S. than anything else. As the Senate moves to gut the law designed to make it easier for people to afford health care, it seems particularly poignant that one of the president’s closest and most devoted employees is a living example of how easily things can go sideways, how even a billionaire’s confidant business owner who lives in a half-million-dollar home can come close to losing everything over something beyond his control.
President Trump is clearly not sold on the American Health Care Act. He told attendees of a closed-door meeting on June 13 that he thought the House’s version of the bill was “mean.” And it would be harmful, to people exactly like a circa-2015 Dan Scavino.
On the morning after the “mean” remarks leaked, Morning Joe panelist (and Daily Beast columnist) Mike Barnicle quipped, “What probably happened is that the president was at one of his golf clubs over the weekend and maybe his caddy complained about the health care bill. That’s the way this thing works.”
The Scavino family did not return The Daily Beast’s multiple requests for comment, but Dan did tweet about CLD shortly after we reached out on Tuesday.
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