Bed-ridden Oahu man loses Medicaid benefits - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Bed-ridden Oahu man loses Medicaid benefits

Brian Burke Brian Burke
Katherine O'Connor Katherine O'Connor

Honolulu (HawaiiNewsNow) – The sister of a quadriplegic, bed-ridden man is accusing the state of bureaucratic inflexibility after his Medicaid benefits were terminated without warning.

Katherine O'Connor visited her brother Brian Burke Friday morning at The Convalescent Center of Honolulu in Liliha. 

Burke has Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, and he's on a ventilator. 

"He's totally bed-bound, but his mind is still functioning perfectly," O'Connor said. 

And as of July 1, he lost his Medicaid coverage. 

O'Connor said since she's his legal guardian and has power of attorney, she was receiving his mail at her post office box in the downtown post office. But she closed that PO box and had her mail forwarded at the end of March.   

Problem is, her brother's annual Medicaid renewal form was sent to the downtown post box sometime after that. 

"There's certain agencies that won't allow their mail to be forwarded and apparently, the Department of Human Services is one of them.  So the application went back to them and they closed the case," O'Connor said. 

Department of Human Services Director Pat McManaman said, "In exchange for free, comprehensive medical coverage, we ask people to keep us informed of their address changes within ten days."  O'Connor said she did not notify DHS of her PO box closure.  

The state of Hawaii benefits office, which oversees Medicaid benefits for 285,000 people in Hawaii, cannot check on everyone who has failed to file proper paperwork, McManaman said. 

"Our staff was reduced by 50 percent in 2009, so we can't make individual phone calls, McManaman said. 

Besides, she said federal confidentiality laws prevent the state from searching for people "because we can't call someone and say ‘Are you the Jane Doe who's on Medicaid?'" 

"Once something like this comes to our attention, we're going to do everything in our power to ensure continuity of care.  The DHS staff are caring and compassionate," McManaman said. 

"Even though it was an oversight on my part and I'm power of attorney, I don't feel it's right to jeopardize my brother's health. I feel there should be some kind of safeguards put in place that he is at least notified or a letter be sent to the nursing home that his case is in jeopardy and about to be closed," O'Connor said. 

Besides, she said, it's not like her brother's case or his address has changed recently.  He's been at the same convalescent center since 2004. 

O'Connor filed all the paperwork to re-start her brother's Medicaid coverage and his doctor has made a request for emergency processing to speed up approvals that could take two months. 

"He's in a very fragile state and he's on a ventilator, he needs oxygen.  The nursing home needs to be paid.  He could need medications," she said. 

Shortly after she spoke with Hawaii News Now Friday, O'Connor received good news from the Department of Human Services, where an official told her they would reinstate her brother's Medicaid coverage in the next two business days.  That means by Wednesday, he should be covered once again. 

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