Monday, July 2, 2012

Public health is for the public: Rafael Del Castillo for Congress

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Rafael Del Castillo is a lawyer who follows his conscience.  The Honolulu attorney has been working as much as fifty hours a week for free since January 1.

His clients are twelve families appealing health insurance company denials of services for their children with disabilities.  Many of the denials are life-threatening, as the children, ranging in age from 4 to 19, are medically fragile.

He is working for free because a new law went into effect that destroyed appeal rights patients had had for a dozen years which reimbursed them for any legal fees in their appeals. 

Del Castillo is running for Congress, for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives being vacated by Mazie Horono.  His web site details his positions better than I can here, but I am writing this because I believe actions can speak as eloquently as words.

I can think of no higher recommendation for a politician than someone who will follow his conscience as Del Castillo has been doing.

My medically fragile daughter Hannah is one of Del Castillo’s clients.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to know some of the other families who rely on Del Castillo to keep our children safe, at home, and as healthy as possible.

The law depriving our children of a level playing field against a $110 billion a year Wall Street giant actually covers all 270,000 or so people in Hawaii enrolled in Medicaid.

The law was intended to be the final step in the effective block-granting of Hawaii’s Medicaid program.   Cutting off access to lawyers was a simple way to deny 270,000 people access to the protections of federal law.   It gave the state ultimate power over how federal Medicaid funds are spent, accomplishing overnight what the US Congress has blocked for the past thirty years.

What neither the state nor the health insurance companies planned on was Del Castillo continuing to represent his clients, whether he would be paid or not.

The law was introduced by Hawaii’s first Democratic Governor in eight years, and passed within his first seven months in office.  In a meeting with the families last August, the Governor admitted the law was intended to save the insurance companies money on legal fees.

The company saving the most from the law immediately was Unitedhealth.  At the time, Del Castillo had over a dozen cases just against that company, and a record of winning 90% of all cases.  By May 2011, Del Castillo was estimating Unitedhealth’s legal costs defending its unreasonable denials of care at around half a million dollars for the year to date.

Ironically, Unitedhealth’s Medicaid and Medicare operations in Hawaii had been under some form of federal or state oversight since April 2010 for violating the legal rights of these same children. Federal Medicaid and Medicare laws were broken every time Unitedhealth denied services to the children that their doctors had prescribed as “medically necessary.”

So the Governor knew Unitedhealth was violating federal regulations by cutting services for our kids when he told us point blank that he was “a failure” if any of us needed a lawyer.

The Governor was also aware the services are not being denied because the state lacks the money to pay for them.  They are being denied so Hawaii’s two for-profit Medicaid managed care companies can sustain twenty percent operating profits.

After all, what does a $9.4 billion “savings” from its federal Medicaid and Medicare contracts mean to Unitedhealth compared to a few hours of nursing care here, or a speech therapy session there?
Del Castillo has been so busy working for our children for free that he has done little fundraising for his Congressional campaign.  That was one of the reasons cited by Hawaii’s biggest media outlet in their refusal on Friday to include Del Castillo in their upcoming Congressional debate.

For years, the media has blackballed Del Castillo.  Over a decade ago he was told the health insurance companies had linked pulling their advertising with news coverage of Del Castillo’s work on behalf of patient healthcare rights.  Unlike, apparently, the Governor, he is not willing to play ball with one of the state’s biggest federal contractors.

Government needs to be taken away from the corporations and given back to the people.  Public health funds need to go to the public, not Wall Street.

This is why I support Rafael Del Castillo for Congress.

About Me

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I'm the mom of a child with disabilities. Hannah's first neurologist said she might never develop beyond the level of a 2 month old infant, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The brain damage was just too severe. Nine years later, she walks, uses a touchscreen computer and I've just been shown she can learn to construct sentences and do simple math with the right piece of technology. Along the way, I discovered I needed to teach myself what Hannah's rights to services really were. Learning about early intervention services led to reading about IDEA and then to EPSDT. I've been waiting for the Obama administration to realize the power and potential of EPSDT for the medical rights - including the right to stay at home with their families - of children with disabilities. The health reform people talk about long term care, and the disability people talk about education and employment, but nobody is talking about EPSDT. So I am.