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Jewish Journal

Rep. Giffords, Health Insurance and Inclusion

by Michelle K. Wolf

January 22, 2012 | 11:13 pm

Like many of you, I have been closely following Rep. Gabby Giffords’ step-by-step recovery from a bullet to her head as part of a horrific assassination attempt last year. Watching the recent video in which she announced her resignation from Congress was a reminder of how far she has come, but also visibly showed that she still has a very long road to recovery.

I’ve read excerpts of the book, Gabby, written by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, and they go into detail about the rigorous and comprehensive speech therapy and physical therapy she has received, supervised by Kelly and Giffords’ mother. Along with these two personal advocates, Giffords has been helped by the highest-level team of specialists, therapists and caregivers. As a member of Congress, she also had access to some of the best medical insurance available in the United States, as well as private resources to supplement what insurance didn’t cover.

What happens to most traumatic brain injury (TBI) victims? For many adults with inadequate or no insurance, their ability to access therapy after the initial acute phase is often curtailed or severely limited. As one patient-advocacy Web site says:

“At the initial stages of an injury, patients are treated without much regard for insurance coverage. It is after the patient has been stabilized that the type of insurance coverage starts to play a role.”

I have met more than one family who is caring for an adult family member with TBI at home, and the results are often devastating. Both the patient with TBI and the family caregiver are unable to work, causing financial and emotional stress for the rest of the family. After the first year or so, many patients can’t get funding for the additional speech and physical therapy they require, and there are often setbacks, such as seizures, along the way. Services for adults with TBI are piecemeal and fragmented, and determining eligibility, filling out all the paperwork and then fighting to keep services going can contribute to the frustration and despair of many family caregivers.

With the current circus-like atmosphere of the Republican primaries, and all the fear-mongering over the Affordable Care Act (that’s the real name of national Health Care Insurance, not “Obamacare”), I wonder if this issue, which according to the CDC impacts 1.7 million Americans every year, will ever be discussed in a rational and meaningful way. After all, can anyone be certain they won’t, at some time, have a family member who is the victim of a catastrophic car accident, a near drowning incident or a bad fall?

On a more positive note, I want to share what the Los Angeles Jewish community is doing as part of national Jewish Disability Awareness Month in February. Under the banner of “Inclusion Awareness Month” (I.AM.) The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is coordinating community-wide events and programs that target both professionals working with families with special needs and the general community, with the goal for each to create an overall inclusive community. Check out the long and impressive list at jewishla.org/pages/inclusion-awareness-month-iam, and make plans to attend as many events as possible. Even better, share the information with your friends who haven’t yet been personally touched by disability.

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