Monday, April 21, 2008
Help Me Howard: Can't afford medicine
Imagine this: your doctor refuses a pain-reducing prescription for your child because you owe him money. Is that legal, ethical? It happened to one South Florida family, and they turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser to ease their pain.
WSVN -- Chetelie Momplaisar: "Anyone who has a child knows watching them suffer is insufferable."
Chetelie Momplaisar: "One of them has eczema, and it's like a disaster. She scratches a lot, sometimes she bleeds, and she cries."
Leila is four, adorable, bright and on the day we were there...
Chetelie Momplaisar: "Stop scratching your skin, I told you."
... unable to stop scratching her skin.
Chetelie Momplaisar: "Itching her neck."
Chetelie Momplaisar: "This was bleeding the other day, when I sent you the email, and this is bleeding now."
Leila has had the condition since she was born, but a prescription drug from her pediatrician normally eliminates the problem.
Patrick Fraser: "What makes it feel better when it itches?"
Leila: "It feels better with the cream."
Patrick Fraser: "With the cream it makes it feel better?"
Chetelie Momplaisar: "Then she stops scratching herself, and they will disappear after a while. Her skin will become clear."
When the Eczema flared up this time, Chetelie called to get the prescription refilled and...
Chetelie Momplaisar: "And they saying they can't give it to me due to some type of balance I had for another child."
Leila's 6-year-old sister had recently been to the same doctor. Since her Medicaid had lapsed, the $85 doctor's bill wasn't paid, so Chetelie says the doctor's office refused to write a prescription for Leila.
Chetelie Momplaisar: "And they said, 'No, you either have to pay the full amount, before you can get the prescription for your other daughter."
That night Leila was miserable.
Chetelie Momplaisar: "She cried the whole night, I had to keep rubbing her, told her it's going to be OK."
And, of course, Chetelie suffered as well.
Patrick Fraser: "What's it like, as a mother, to sit there and watch your baby cry because you can't afford medicine?"
Chetelie Momplaisar: "She's been going there since she was 4-days-old, and now they refuse to give me a prescription just because of $85. I'm sorry."
Since Chetelie didn't have the $85, she offered to make installment payments. Anything to get the cream for Leila, and the doctor's office said "no."
Chetelie Momplaisar: "They are doctors. They have degrees to help sick people. They are not supposed to say no."
But can a doctor refuse to write a prescription for a suffering child because of an outstanding medical bill, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "All this doctor had to do was call in a prescription like they have done for her in the past. To refuse, to let her suffer and cry all night long could be a violation of the law. It's called patient abandonment and a violation of medical ethics."
Our first priority was to get the medicine for Leila. That day I called DCF, which administers the state's Medicaid program. By noon the next day the problem was resolved.
Leila got her prescription. DCF also told me "a provider (doctor) cannot deny a Medicaid-covered service due to an outstanding bill that was accrued while not covered by Medicaid."
I called the doctor's office to ask why they would refuse a prescription for a suffering child. They said they would get back to me. I'm still waiting.
DCF told me the Agency for Health Care Administration (ACHA) was looking into the incident. They will not punish the doctor's office. They say, in most cases, it's one employee that doesn't know the rules. Instead they will take the opportunity to educate and train the doctor's office.
Chetelie won't have any more problems with her daughter's pediatrician, at least not this one.
Chetelie: "Even if it's the last doctor on earth I will never go there, just because of that."
Of course the vast majority of doctors would never do what this doctor's office did. In fact, I caring for patients is why they become doctors in the first place.
And Chetelie never spoke to the doctor, just a staff member, but, of course, the physician is responsible for what their employees do. By the way, if you are on Medicaid and having problems with your benefits there are some local numbers to clear it up below.
Got an issue you are itching to scratch? Need someone to doctor you up? Contact us. We'll gladly pass out a legal prescription for your ailment.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Email: email@example.com (please include your contact number when emailing)
Agency for Health Care Administration Offices