Medicaid- A dirty word? The case for Medicaid

My son uses Medicaid. There. I said it. As a sometimes Republican, there is a bit of shame attached to saying that. Frequently we think only lazy losers use government programs like this. For the record, we are not lazy losers. 

There are a lot of conversations about insurance going on right now and I want to be part of the conversation. I want people to know and understand why we use Medicaid, what it does for us and many others and why it is important for our society to have a safety net for families, and my hope is that by doing so, people can make better educated decisions; and I, and others won’t be ashamed that we use this program. Hang on, this is going to be a long post…

You are a pregnant Mom, anxiously expecting the birth of your child. Maybe it’s your first. Maybe it’s your fith. But something goes wrong at the delivery. Maybe it’s a birth defect. Maybe there were complications in the delivery. It doesn’t matter. All you know is that you now have a medically fragile  or complex baby and you are on the hook for thousands of dollars. You may have really good jobs and insurance. It doesn’t matter. 

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies had max yearly and lifetime amounts they would pay out. Not only did you have to pay your copays and deductibles but everything over that yearly amount and trust me, with a medically fragile child, you’ve reached that amount. Currently (until new regulations are put in place) there is a cap called catastrophic max that insurance companies must pay 100% after that cap amount that you have paid is reached. For us it’s $10,000. Do you have $10,000 lying around to pay at the drop of a hat? Some of my friends reach their max by the end of January every year,  and since you have a medically fragile or complicated child, that is a reoccurring $10,000 every year. This is just the beginning. 

 This isn’t my family’s story but it is the story of several of my friends. Medicaid in this instance is issued rectroactively at birth to help cover all those bills. We were in a sense lucky and didn’t have a major diagnosis (other than asthma) or major problems with his diagnosis’ until D was about 5.

Now maybe you have a good job, that extra $10,000 a year means you have to tighten your belt a bit but it’s no big deal. Great! Here’s the thing though. That $10,000? It’s just the beginning.

Many families with medically complex children or significant special needs require that one parent is a stay at home parent. I know many parents that keep trying to make a two parent team working, work, but it is very hard for them and they often loose their jobs due to never being able to be at work. There are doctor appointments, after doctors appointments, therapies multiple times a week, research for new treatments, home medical care, fighting with the insurance company, calls from the school because your medically compromised child is sick again, or behaviorally challenged child has just been expelled again due to their disability. Speaking of school, don’t forget the hours of meeting with them, and fighting them to get the education your child deserves and is legally entitled to, but somehow the school forgets. It is a full time job just handling this. I take my hat off for any parent who is dealing with all this and can  still put in a 40 hour or more work week. I couldn’t do it. This cuts into the earnings a family can bring in, thus adding to the financial burden and the stress a family goes through.

If that isn’t enough there are all those things your child medically needs that insurance just won’t pay for. Lots of medical equipment and therapies they often refuse to reimburse or pay for, but it’s medically necessary. In our case, our Primary insurance limits physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and speech therapy to 50 visits combined a year. As my son has done multiple visits a week of all of them at various times over the last 5 years,  if we only had our Primary insurance, he would only get therapy a couple months a year or we would have to choose just one therapy and do it once a week. How do you choose between helping your child to speak and helping them learn how to walk or function in this world? That is a horrific choice for a parent to make. Medicaid picks up the cost of the extra visits making it possible for him to do all three therapies all year long. Another thing our son has required that has made a HUGE difference in all of our lives is having a Service Dog. Almost no insurances will pay for a Service Dog. The cheapest dog well trained dog from a respectable trainer is generally about $10,000 but I’ve seen them as high as $40,000. These dogs can provide life saving help as well as aiding the person to live a more independent life. Medicaid does not pay for Service Dogs either, however I am bringing this up to illustrate other medical issues that come into play.

Some people say, “Well these people aren’t going to amount to much anyway so let’s just not get them therapy or the medical equipment they need. They are a drain on the economy.” Here’s the thing, study after study has shown that in the long run, paying for the therapies when they are young actually cuts down on costs over the life of the person because they are better able to care for themselves and therefore need less help, and in some instances are able to overcome their disabilities and become a contributing member of society. Isn’t making them self sufficient a better plan than making them more dependent?

Medicaid also provides through their waiver programs opportunities for families to have another caretaker to come in and take over for a bit. It is physically, mentally and spiritually draining to be “on” all the time 24/7 for your child. You love them dearly and fiercely, but love alone will not be enough to sustain you through what can often be equated to a battle. We’re battling to keep them alive, battling keeping their behaviors in check so that they can remain at home with you rather than in an institution. With our kids, you can’t just call a babysitter down the street. We have to use trained professionals who don’t get paid nearly enough and are hard to find. Respite care which Medicaid provides, enables us to go to our doctors visits so we can take care of ourselves, a date with our spouse so we can take care of our marriage, special time with siblings who often feel neglected, guilty, and hurt.

Medicaid is not perfect. It is a State run program, therefore each State’s benefits and management is a bit different. All the State’s Medicaid plans are approved by the Federal Government to ensure they cover the minimum benefits, and the State’s are then subsidized   at varying levels. 

I spent quite a bit of time our last year living in Alaska, and even afterwards identifying potential savings and ways to make Medicaid better for Alaskans as the State needed to cut money from the budget. As a consumer we wanted smart cuts not across the board cuts, or cutting programs that people actually needed and were saving the State money even though through some people’s perspective it was costing rather than saving money. For those who are consumers of this and other government programs, I would invite you to become part of the solution. Help them make the process better. Help them save smart money. 

Medicaid is not perfect. There probably are better solutions out there. But I haven’t heard of any that will provide that safety net families so desperately need so that they can care for their loved one.

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