Medical system denies dignity with puzzling roadblocks

| Kathy Tomlin | March 28, 2011 | 1 Comment

On the anniversary of the passage of federal health care reform legislation, we recognize that there is still a lot of work to do in order for that legislation to meet the principles laid out by the U.S. bishops.

As the bishops restate their position on the need for health care reform, they also urge Congress to fix what is still broken. In “Setting the Record Straight,” a statement made last May, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops re­mind the American public and our political leaders of their position:

“Reflecting decades of advocacy on behalf of universal access to health care, the bishops     were clear in calling for health care reform as a moral imperative and urgent na­tion­al priority. We called for reform that would make health coverage affordable for the poor and needy, moving our society substantially toward the goal of universal coverage. We were equally clear in stating that this must be done in accord with the dignity of each and every human person, showing full respect for the life, health and conscience of all.”

System needs fixing

In addition to working out the de­tails of providing affordable, quality health care, the U.S. Catholic Church is currently working to en­sure that abortions are not funded with tax dollars, that Catholic principles regarding end-of-life issues are attended to and that conscience protections are in place for individuals and institutional health care pro­viders.

As the state and federal governments work out the details of health care amid deficit budgets, it will be important for us to advance the full complement of improvements that need to be made in the new law.

There is no doubt that our current system is truly broken. Just recently, I was in a conversation with someone whose unemployment situation has put her and her daughter’s health care coverage in jeopardy. Here are the facts of the case:

» After losing her job, Martha (not her real name) applied for Medical Assistance last Sept. 1 so that she and her daughter could access health care. She received two “deny” letters for not providing adequate information.

» In mid-November (two months later), she was approved after providing additional information.

» Eligibility for MA requires persons to reapply in order to continue coverage every six months. By the time she received notice of coverage, she had only three and a half months remaining.

» She received notice in De­cem­ber that it was time to renew — clearly a six month miscalculation. After calling, that calendar date was corrected to the end of February.

» In January, she received a letter saying MA was canceled because she did not renew.

» In February, Martha received a letter re-instating coverage effective Feb. 1, 2011. At the end of February, she was scheduled to re-apply for the next six-month period.

» But at the end of February, she received a letter saying that her income (unemployment insurance) had gone up $40, making her ineligible for the program. Minnesota Unemployment couldn’t give her any explanation of why unemployment had gone up; so Martha re-applied anyway.

» On Feb. 28, she received a letter saying their applications were de­nied.

Many issues to confront

Most of us would agree that the way the current system is working violates human dignity.

What is even more disconcerting is that my conversation with Martha was hardly audible be­cause she was deathly ill with a respiratory  illness; her only option for health care was the emergency room.

We have a long way to go to fix the many things that are broken.

Kathy Tomlin is director of the Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice.

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Category: Commentary