Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories

Archive for the ‘MassHealth’ Category


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In the time since I last wrote here, the world has changed.

We have embarked on so many new adventures in the agency where I work, in the state, in the country… It is all a bit baffling to see the ideas so long expressed coming to fruition now. I find myself once in awhile holding onto my cynicism like an ugly old jacket that served its purpose well enough to protect me back in the day, even if it never quite fit. Same with our healthcare. Hard to believe we might be able to order something tailor-made, but right now I am in the ordering business!

Last week I went out to do my first long-term services and supports (LTSS) assessment for the One Care program–Massachusetts’ demonstration healthcare program for people ages 21 to 64 who are dually eligible for Medicare and MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid program). Since people in this age group only receive Medicare after they have been on SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) for two years*, we know that their disabilities are significant and long-term. MassHealth is triggered also by low income and/or disability. Some may buy into the MassHealth system, but most would only do so to maintain some sort of long-term benefit, such as personal care attendants. Either way, we know that dual-eligible individuals often struggle with day-to-day life. While it may be an illness or disability that has made daily activities difficult, it is also true that for many people, this lack of support in the day-to-day needs becomes a downward spiral into isolation and worse health.

The unmet need for long-term services is hellishly familiar to those of us who have worked or lived with disability for any length of time. I personally have clamored for years about what a great world it would be if we could embrace care coordination, medical home, consumer control, participatory healthcare, collaborative decision-making… I have had my mantras, my rants, my moments of frustration.

And now.. I have had the experience of sitting in a consumer’s living room, asking the individual what he needed in his daily life. He told me, told me what he does, what is hard, and I came up with a few creative suggestions for things that may make these things possible.. or easier. I haveĀ absolutely no idea whether a healthcare plan is going to recognize the tremendous benefit of, say, a gym membership and transportation to get there. Or support for companion pets. Or even homecare–not so easy to get that sort of help before a certain age. But I am writing it down, recommending it strongly, and ready to explain why.

This first assessment was difficult for me, mainly because I am so much in the habit of thinking two steps ahead, to what is available instead of to what is really needed. I find myself frustrated at my own realization of how much I had adapted to this system of thinking–a system that I have complained about for so long. I have spent so many years hitting my head on the wall trying everything I can possibly think of to get someone desperately needed help (and much of this help being for my own children) that I find it incredibly hard to believe that there is a program where I can write down, “Julie X. needs Y, because it will help her health in ABC way…”, and Y will be granted (I believe the preferred term is authorized). I have joked for a long time that my requisition for a magic wand is on hold, but by golly, I am beginning to wonder if that purchase order did not just go through.

So, when I send in my most recent assessment, with a few very reasonable recommendations that may be completely life-altering for that individual, I am going to hold my breath, cross my fingers, and try very hard to believe that this is really true.

I once saw a woman who was facing enormous challenges in getting any sort of support approved. It was very difficult for her, she said, not to compare notes with her friend from home. Her friend had been misdiagnosed with cancer, she told me, and the healthcare system of her native country had sent her friend for a week to a spa for emotional recovery. When her friend arrived on the train, an attendant was waiting to help with her wheelchair and luggage, and a ride to the spa.

The woman I was visiting looked around her now-cluttered dining room at her own unassembled monitors, and her calendar, and her list of appointments and medications she could barely remember, much less afford.

“This is barbaric,” she told me. It was hard to argue with her. She was sick, and tired, and had trusted enough to go through with preventive surgery that made her feel much worse than she had felt before–and this was months after she was told she should have recovered. She was at a loss to figure out how she could care for herself and her home now. Before her surgery, she had still been mowing her own lawn.

Imagine that this were different. Imagine that she had understood the affect that the surgery might have had on her life afterward. Imagine that she had still had the surgery, and that her doctors had planned for the hands-on support at home that she really needed to make a good recovery. Imagine that our biggest challenge in meeting need were simply a matter of figuring out how to schedule it all appropriately, and not whether it is even possible.

Imagine this demonstration works, and spreads to all of us in our new healthcare system.

I am ready to start imagining. Are you?


Written by Only Anecdotal

28 Jan 2014 at 1:39pm

Pouring Down Like Silver

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The weeks lately seem to come in like the hurricane last week. Round here, wind and relatively minor destruction, some fear. Other places, much worse. And so it seems as news comes in and will continue to rush in tomorrow and possibly beyond. As understood in that infamous Chinese curse, we are living in interesting times. This was the week to think about a new database, my present work, and a new project headed our way. We survived the storm, and carried on.

So, once we were back to work and on the road again, I found myself on the one hand trying to catch up with the enormous number of referrals I have had lately. I am glad that the community seems so cohesive. Often, depending on the situation, I find myself surrounded by many colleagues in similar care coordination/coalition building/resource finding roles. I am glad that we know to call one another and work together when people call upon us for support.

And on the other hand, I find myself drawn into a brave new world of healthcare at this point, as I contemplate–deeply–the about-to-launch demonstration project known familiarly as “The Duals”.

Individuals who are dually-eligible for Medicare and Medicaid represent a vulnerable disabled population. The sorts of ping-pong games between the two insurers have delayed medical care, therapies, services, and equipment for most people at some point, often with aggravating, if not tragic results. Change is needed.

At the same time, change is frightening, especially when it feels that there may be a buck to be made… or saved. And given the sorts of systemic abuse that many people, notably those with psychiatric disabilities, have faced throughout history and throughout individual lives, it is no surprise that invitation to “new and improved” packages is met with cynicism, as well.

I am newly diving into this world, swimming deeper into the history and ideas the Dual Demonstration Project contains. The insurers–Integrated Care Organizations–have just been named on Friday. And from my early glances, I can see that it is an opportunity to explain to come to the healthcare world and tell the stories of what it is to have a disability in this world. The Duals are the pioneers, not only for this project, but for the entire Affordable Care Act, as it looks to this challenging coordinating effort.

And tomorrow… Vote! The ballot in Massachusetts, particularly, has perhaps never mattered more.


Written by Only Anecdotal

5 Nov 2012 at 10:33pm

Waiving the Red Flag

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Today was possibly the worst day I have ever experienced in my present job.

In my attempts to keep my ears and eyes open for any sorts of small details that may make life in the real world a possibility for an individual, I usually check my facts before springing forward with the news of a lucky jackpot. I usually research, then check again.. and this time I thought I had. But I obviously had not.

Or more accurately, I was misinformed–by an expert.

I fear–deeply–that the last hopes a man had to keep his wife at home may have dissolved today. In a nursing home, the woman will be able to get funding, but at home? Well, this is what waivers are for, unfortunately. Waivers, because qualifying for Medicaid–the only insurer that pays for long-term care–requires not only a disability, but poverty, as well–hence the waiver. But the waivers vary from state to state, and usually target a specific group of people, often a capped number of them. Rules tend to be stringent: over nine years old with autism? out of luck. Under 60 with need for services to prevent institutionalization? Too bad.

And this is where I really messed up. Even to age restrictions, in certain programs, there are exceptions. If you get SSDI, you have to wait two years for Medicare–unless you have ALS. And in the case of the family I was helping, a diagnosis seemed the best hope for help. But now, we learn that supports will be minimal–and not with the flexibility we had hoped for.

It all makes me think about how much healthcare depends on such studious and constant attention to minute, complex details of not only one bureaucracy, but several of them. It makes me think that when even those of us who are supposed to be knowledgeable of a wide array of programs cannot decipher the possibilities, we are all in trouble.

I am not sure how I am going to break the news to the family tomorrow. I at first thought to head into the conversation with more expert knowledge, with more potential solutions to a very difficult situation. But I think somehow that building this sort of hope right now would be cruel–and only an effort for me to feel better, not an actual, feasible way for a family to stay together with the supports they need at home.

There are days when my stomach knots up in this job: watching a man’s face as he takes in new information from a doctor “No, the dialysis is probably not temporary.” But feeling that there are no loopholes left?

I at first was going to refer to white flags in the title of this piece, but I realized that in spite of this, surrender is not the answer. Letting life happen is one thing: acceptance is often a process that has taken place long before I see people, even in new crisis situations. Flexibility, change, moving on to better things are difficult, but good decisions we can make in the wake of such crises.

But it is more than this. These incidents, ever the more common, I am convinced–especially in middle-aged people with chronic or late-onset disabilities–are warnings to us all. Red flags are up all around us, alerting us to the emergency, the urgent need for Money Follows the Person, and more: to Money Stays With the Person, stays at home. Community First.

Waiver? No. Living at home should not be the waivered condition: skilled nursing facilities should be the exception, the thing that needs a bit of hoop jumping, and maybe a few headaches. I wish that months ago I could have spent my time with this family helping them with living life beyond mere survival. Maybe someday, some coordinator of some sort, somewhere, will have this sort of a job. But until then, the struggle continues.

Written by Only Anecdotal

30 Jul 2012 at 11:37pm