The James “Tiger” Morton Catastrophic Illness Commission is supposed to help people who’ve been denied Medicaid coverage pay for lifesaving medical treatment.
Its website says it was created in 1999 “as a last resort for those in dire need of medical assistance during a life-threatening illness once all other resources are exhausted.”
Executive Director Julie Palas told the commission’s members Thursday that the agency’s request for about $300,000 in increased funding for next fiscal year hadn’t been included in the governor’s proposed budget. The requested funding increase also isn’t in the budget bill currently moving through the state Legislature.
Palas said there are about 30 people currently on a waitlist for help.
Jacques Williams, the commission’s chairman, said, “We’re left scrambling to try to find enough resources to take care of the considerable number of applications we have by people who are critically ill and who may die unless we’re able to extend services to them.”
He said people are “donating their time and their resources for what is becoming increasingly an act of futility. And it makes one wonder how much funding and how many — how large a commission and how many members in a commission are needed, or if a commission is even needed, when it doesn’t receive any funding that is productive.”
“We are still in code, we still have an obligation to meet some responsibilities,” said Frances Roberts-Buchanan, another commission member. “Now, if they don’t want us to meet them anymore, by not funding us, then they need to let us know.”
“We can’t get straight answers,” she said. “We can’t get someone to buy in to the passion that we have for saving lives, and I just am so frustrated.”
She announced Thursday she’s resigning.
Allison Adler, spokesperson for the state Department of Health and Human Resources, whose budget includes the commission, wrote in an email Thursday that the commission “has seen a reduction in service and need due to the Affordable Care Act.”
The Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, extended health insurance coverage, including Medicaid, to more people.
“As short-term needs arise, the Department has some discretion to transfer funds from another account,” Adler wrote. “Future plans for the program are being explored.”
She didn’t answer a follow-up question Friday about why she said need had dropped when the commission says there’s a waitlist.
Roberts-Buchanan did say the Affordable Care Act “has made a big difference.” Palas said Thursday “we’re the gap-fillers.”
“We’re after Medicaid and before private, you know, there’s no way they can get it — or, there’s no way, because they have cancer, they can get insurance,” she said. “It’s pre-existing, they have to cover it, but they charge them exorbitant fees, which they, of course, cannot even pay.”