Bethany Hartman’s four children were recently caught in a puzzling Catch-22 between two government health insurance programs.
Hartman, of Bonaire, says her children were on Medicaid until she was told in March that the family’s income was too high for them to remain in the program.
So they were referred to PeachCare, which covers children of families with incomes above the Medicaid ceiling.
Then, last month, Hartman says, “I received a letter from PeachCare, referring us to Medicaid because we made too little money.’’
She called both programs again and didn’t get anywhere. Meanwhile, with their kids lacking coverage, the family couldn’t afford regular shots for her son Elliott, 6, who has juvenile arthritis. They paid out of pocket for a mix of medications for him, along with other medical bills.
Hartman got help from Georgia Legal Services Program, which has a hotline to help low-income Georgians outside metro Atlanta gain access to health benefits, food stamps and other assistance.
The Hartmans’ predicament is all too common, says Vicky Kimbrell, health law specialist attorney for GLSP.
“People are losing benefits left and right,’’ Kimbrell says.
She says almost all such benefit denials are found not to be justified, and result from “bureaucratic barriers.’’
The hotline helps connect eligible Georgians to Medicaid and PeachCare benefits, as well as helping the elderly poor get Medicaid to pay for their Medicare premiums. The hotline can also help with prescription drug costs and energy bill assistance.
The benefits hotline, originally funded by the National Center on Aging, is now being funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation.
It took about a week for the Legal Services Program to straighten out the Hartmans’ problem, but the four children are now back on Medicaid.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,’’ Bethany Hartman says.
Both Kimbrell and Hartman say that the Division of Family and Children Services, which does benefit eligibility for the state, lacks the resources and staff to handle such work effectively.
Hartman says DFCS lost her application paperwork. “The computer system is outdated.’’
The agency has suffered from state budget cuts, and caseloads have mounted for DFCS workers. But despite that, Kimbrell says, the agency and its umbrella organization, the Department of Human Services, have been responsive and helpful to Georgia Legal Services Program queries on behalf of clients.
Human Services told GHN on Monday that it’s revamping the way it handles benefit inquiries to address the increased DFCS caseload.
“We’re pooling our resources to become more efficient and effective,’’ said Lisa Marie Shekell, an agency spokeswoman.
The agency makes it a priority to provide eligible recipients access to services, she said, adding that Human Services cooperates with Legal Services to resolve concerns about benefits.
The GLSP hotline has helped 1,300 people over a year’s time, with 90 percent of them below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. That work resulted in $703,000 in benefits gained.
Much of the work can be done via computer and phone, Kimbrell says.
Clients get GLSP’s number on their DFCS termination or denial letters, as well as through senior centers and health clinics, libraries and churches.
Alice Smith, 65, of Statesboro called recently for help with food stamps.
Smith, who has leukemia and other medical problems, was originally turned down for the benefit, then was approved for $16 a month.
Now she gets a $200 monthly stipend, thanks to help from the hotline.
Many of the callers live in rural communities, Kimbrell says.
“People are very motivated because they need food and they need health care.’’
The hotline number is 1-(888)-632-6332