Chris Meadows has defied all the odds of a disabled man.
Despite having a severe type of muscular dystrophy that robbed him of his strength and mobility, he graduated from Warren Woods High Tower School with honors, attended Michigan State University, where he earned a degree in telecommunications and worked for the United States Social Security Administration until his body could no longer handle the everyday stress of his job.
He qualified and received early retirement and purchased a home, which is not only meticulously maintained, but was updated to be more accessible for him.
“He is a prime example of someone who utilized the benefits provided to him to live a productive and regular life,” said Steve Johnson of Macomb Township, who has been friends with Meadows since the sixth-grade and hopes to help Meadows win what is likely to be the greatest battle of his life.
After 39 years of living as a contributing member of his community, the Clinton Township resident has received a letter from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services saying the funding for his Medicaid benefits have been cancelled.
“This is devastating for him,” Johnson said. “This means he would have to sell his home, his van, and nearly all his possessions and ultimately end up in a nursing home or group home.”
Long before legislators and health advocates began voicing concerns over an overhaul of Obamacare, changes to Medicaid services were in the works.
Historically the MDHHS has provided consumers with services needed to remain self-sufficient and independent based upon prior practices and service authorization, according to Macomb County Community Mental Health Executive Director John Kinch. A prime example would be the cost of a caregiver for someone with physical disabilities living in the community on their own.
That was in the past.
Kinch has been told that the state will no longer support this practice — which he refers to as the maintenance of effort (MOE).
“It’s the fallout of budget cuts to Medicaid services that started in 2015-16,” Kinch said.
Over the years, nothing much has changed as far as Meadows health is concerned. He cannot move his arms or his legs — which is the reason he is in a wheelchair and requires the help of a caregiver to live on his own.
However, with news of the denied services came a determination that the community living services program was not appropriate for Meadows.
“They stated that I required skilled nursing care. This was a shock to me and everyone I know,” Meadows said, during a visit to his home — where his MSU pride is clearly marked for all to see. “Even my pulmonary specialist stated that this was baseless, and that anyone who met me would know that.”
One of the options suggested to Meadows was a personal service response system, similar to what many senior citizens use in case of an emergency. However, like Meadows said getting help to go to the bathroom or to adjust his position in his wheelchair is not an emergency and he would be charged for the calls.
The second option had Meadows not only perplexed but emotionally deflated.
“They want me to go into a nursing home,” said Meadows, who has served as a beacon of hope and inspiration to people with disabilities who never believed they could live a normal life in the community.
“I have lived on my own since leaving for college when I was 18,” Meadows said. “I pay taxes, vote and am a functioning member of society. To have worked so hard and to be told to give all this up and move to a nursing home is devastating. It would mean that everything I have worked so hard to achieve was all for nothing. That my life meant nothing.”
Meadows has a right to fight the decision. When there is a difference of opinion with regards to benefits and the denial of services, consumers are notified of their right to appeal. This hearing is attended by the consumer along with his or her case worker, a hearing officer and an administrative staff member (neutral party). The decision of this hearing is then forwarded to the executive director of CMH who can approve it or overturn it. A comprehensive report of the hearing is then sent to the consumer.
Meadows’s appeal was denied at this hearing, but he’s still fighting it.
Consumers who wish to appeal further can request that their case be heard before an administrative law judge.
If this proves unsatisfactory, they can then file a motion with Macomb County Circuit Court to argue the conclusions to the administrative law judge, Kinch stated.
“I am not in the business of not providing services to people,” he said. “I want to give them the services they need, and I want them to have the ability to go through their formal appeal mechanisms.”
Kinch further explained there is also the emerging Home and Community Based Services Waiver (HCBS), a federal rule promoting a number of principles including the support of a person’s independence in making life choices; assisting a person’s choices of services, supports and providers; access to the same conveniences as people not in Medicaid programs; to have one’s own selection among all options available, among others.
“I do believe and will continue to believe that MCCMH is closer to the intent of the emerging HCBS rule than are most other agencies,” Kinch said. “MCCMH must continue to be strong advocates for consumers allowing for their privacy, dignity, respect and freedom from influence and control. It is further incumbent upon Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Affordable Care Act — reform — to allow for adequate and necessary Medicaid funds to support these language provisions. If you’re going to make this ideal, of which it should be, then provide the funding.”
On June 28, Meadows, along with his lawyer, will attend his hearing before an administrative law judge.
“I’m not just trying to fight this for me but for all of the people out there, like me,” said Meadows, whose brother had muscular dystrophy and died at the age of 34. “I’ve never thought of myself as disabled, just a normal person with limitations. The way I’m being treated and judged right now has made me feel more disabled and different than ever.”
Gina Joseph is a multimedia journalist and columnist for The Macomb Daily. Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow @ginaljoseph on Twitter or visit her beat blog macomblife.blogspot.com. Reach the author at email@example.com or follow Gina on Twitter: @ginaljoseph.