Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sen. Alexander: Come on down to the Medicaid Ghetto and learn something

As always, 4&20 blackbirds blogging from the wilds of Missoula, Mont., provides a forum for westerners to debate (and rant about) current events. Health care reform was on the agenda yesterday. A great post by JC prompted a flurry of responses. It focused on Tenn. Sen. Lamar Alexander and his remarks equating Medicaid coverage with living in a ghetto. As I can't do justice to the post and the attendant responses, go to

I had to respond. Couldn't help myself. Here's my comment:

I know it's superfluous to address the details of JC's post, but let me take a stab at it.

First, Lamar Alexander's quote: "a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us or any of our families would ever want to be a part of for our health care.”

Our family actually requested entry into the Medicaid "ghetto" when our teen daughter was in a mental health residential treatment center in 2008. She was self-mutilating and had threatened to kill herself, and was eventually diagnosed as bipolar. She was in treatment for 330 days. My insurance covered 45 of those days, with a 20 percent co-pay.

What to do? The Wyoming Dept. of Health funds a Medicaid Waiver Program that picks up the bill for children and teens that need long-term treatment but are either uninsured or under-insured, the fate of most Americans who work full-time. This is especially true when it comes to mental health care.

It took me awhile to find out about the program and to fill out the correct paperwork. Once enrolled, taxpayer dollars (yours, mine and maybe even a few from Lamar Alexander) picked up the tab for my daughter's care. We traveled 400 miles round trip to see her each weekend and participate in therapy sessions.

When she was released in January 2009, she received after-care in the form of medication and therapy. Trained specialists documented her progress, and on Sept. 30 she was cleared to come off the waiver.

I'm still calculating the costs covered by Medicaid. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000. We never could have afforded it.

We met a lot of our Medicaid ghetto dwellers along the way. Middle class folks. Most grief-stricken that their kids were in trouble. But thankful that there was an alternative to letting their kids travel alone and untreated down the dead-end road of teen suicide and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and drug/alcohol abuse.

My daughter's doing fine (thanks for asking) and is back in school and staying on her meds. My insurance company, for all its shortcomings, is paying the bills and we pick up the co-pays. We learned a few things from our time in the ghetto. Sen. Alexander should take some time out from pontificating and explore the lives of real people.

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