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A Times Editorial

Medicaid's help vital for victim

The 18-year-old Hillsborough County student beaten in April to the point she still cannot walk, talk or eat on her own is set to be released Wednesday from the Sarasota hospital where she has undergone rehabilitative care.

The young woman and her family have a long road ahead. She cannot attend to her basic needs. Her family is broke and almost entirely reliant on Medicaid and the outpouring of private charity that has come in response to media accounts of the attack. For the victim to have a chance at regaining a normal life, the state will need to remain engaged and be generous and humane about covering therapy and other services.

The woman was attacked outside a public library while returning a book. She was beaten, raped and choked, her brain swelled and she slipped into a coma. She remains blinded by the attack and is only now responding to various forms of communication. Doctors say this first year will be critical in assessing the extent of her brain damage and devising a treatment regimen. Medicaid would not pay for the Sarasota hospital after this week, forcing the family to remodel their home to accommodate the victim and her medical equipment.

When the government — that would be all Floridians — failed her, strangers pitched in to help. Builders and contractors have donated their time to ready the family home. Their contribution, and the charity of others who have stepped forward to help, will make the transition easier for the victim and her family.

But Medicaid needs to step up, too. The agency has not done a good job keeping the family informed in a timely manner of available treatment options and ways to pay for them. That has forced the family to make many decisions on the quick, from when and where to move the daughter to who would pay to make the home suitable for the daughter's special needs.

Medicaid officials need to remember that this woman is a patient because she was a victim first. The agency officials started off saying the right things about this being a special case, but lately they have talked more about rules and regulations. They seem to be hedging on their commitment to provide the victim what she needs and to be open to special requests.

The mother needs competent nursing help for the immediate term to deal with her daughter's everyday needs. The family said Medicaid has offered such help for two weeks and would then reassess. Two weeks is hardly enough time for the mother to adapt. Medicaid also needs to provide the victim with adequate speech and physical therapy. If that requires extra home visits or help in arranging transportation, so be it.

Medicaid needs to be more responsive going forward. The victim's mother will have a hard enough time caring for her daughter without having to fight the bureaucracy at every turn. If the family had a problem getting a straight answer from Medicaid when the daughter's plight was front-page news, what can they expect once the story fades from public attention in the coming months? The state — and that means all Floridians — cannot give up on this young woman. She has a window of opportunity right now and it would be cruel to shut it.

Medicaid's help vital for victim 11/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 12:22pm]
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