Beverly Clerkley grew up east of the College Hill neighborhood near the riverfront.
She’s 81, so she has seen a lot in her time in St. Louis.
She remembers the trolleys downtown, visiting Santa Claus at Famous-Barr.
She remembers a time when you could get somebody on the phone.
Lately that’s been a problem.
A retired nurse who lives on a fixed income of about $1,100 a month, Clerkley gets her prescriptions through the Medicare Part D program. She qualifies for home health care services through Medicaid. She has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Her eyesight isn’t all that good and she was scheduled for cataract surgery last week.
In July, after trying to find the right combination of medicines, things were going well.
“The doctor had just gotten it to where everything is beautiful,” says Clerkley, who these days lives in a fourplex in Ferguson, off Bermuda Drive.
In August, she called to refill her prescriptions.
“They said I didn’t have insurance.”
Clerkley is one of the more than 130,000 Missourians who in the past two years have been mysteriously dropped from the state’s MO HealthNet managed care program, which serves as a pass-through for federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.
For months, health care advocates and Democrats in the Missouri Legislature have been clamoring for Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, to do something about the massive drop, particularly of children, from the program. Missouri leads the nation in children dropped from Medicaid in the past two years at more than 100,000, but seniors and the disabled also are being affected.
“It’s a crisis,” says state Rep. Raychel Proudie, who represents the area where Clerkley lives. The governor won’t call it that and neither will administrators at MO HealthNet. They continue to push the fallacy that an improved economy is the primary driver of people being dropped off of the health care programs. “The people who are working the phones are calling it a crisis,” Proudie says. “They know.”
Proudie was at Clerkley’s house last Monday, when a case worker was supposed to visit to get Clerkley signed back up.
“I was there all day,” Proudie says. “No one came. No one called.”
So the state lawmaker took things into her own hands. She called and got a case worker on the phone.
Clerkley says the state worker was rude to her and blamed her for being dropped from Medicaid. She asked if there were “bugs in my house” before she set up an appointment.
By Tuesday, an apologetic supervisor called. Proudie was there again. So were Clerkley’s granddaughter, Gabrielle White, and I. Clerkley put the call on speaker phone. The polite man was apologetic for everything that had happened to Clerkley. He and a case worker will be coming by next week. As of now, Clerkley is back on the state health insurance program.
For Proudie, helping to get people back on MO HealthNet has become a full-time job.
A lot of the people in her House district — in Ferguson, Normandy, Kinloch, Berkeley — are living in poverty or are seniors on fixed incomes.
In the past few weeks she’s helped children get back on Medicaid after their parents found out when they went for school immunizations that they weren’t covered. She’s helped a double-amputee get his coverage back, as well as seniors like Clerkley. Everybody who has sought her help after being dropped from MO HealthNet, Proudie says, had improperly lost their coverage.
But not everybody has a state representative to help them, nor an advocate like Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Some people who lose their insurance don’t even know they don’t have it anymore.
Clerkley’s experience is like so many others: She couldn’t get anybody on the phone, and when she did, she couldn’t navigate the system to get answers.
“Their tone changed when they heard I was Rep. Raychel Proudie,” says the state representative who called on behalf of her constituent. “In 20 minutes we got all of the answers she had been trying to get for weeks.”
Democrats have asked Parson to call a special session on the Medicaid crisis, but he called one instead to help rural used-car dealers obtain an additional tax credit when they sell more than one car at a time.
Back when she was working, Clerkley was a nurse at the Veterans Affairs hospital, doing the backbreaking work of taking care of veterans who often didn’t have much mobility.
You can’t do that job, she says, if you don’t care about people.
She suggests the state needs to keep that in mind as it manages the health care for seniors, disabled Missourians and children whose lives depend upon it.
“Respect is respect. You don’t talk to people like that. You watch your tongue,” Clerkley says. “No one should be made to feel bad because they can’t get services. It’s not right. It brings tears to my eyes.”
Clerkley didn’t get her cataract surgery last week.
Even though she and Proudie were told the insurance was back in place, when it originally got canceled, so, too, did the ride to the eye doctor provided by Medicaid. The ride was not rescheduled.
This is what happens when you take health care away from people who need it.
The crisis continues.