Shutdown planning creates confusion

Posted at 8:36 PM on June 30, 2011 by Madeleine Baran (0 Comments)

Advocates for the poor expressed relief at a judge's ruling Wednesday that preserved funding for Medical Assistance and welfare programs if the government shuts down.

But that message isn't reaching everyone. Some people who rely on the programs still believe they'll lose all benefits.

I spent a few hours tonight talking with members of our Public Insight Network who replied to questions about the impact of a government shutdown. Some had no idea they could still fill prescriptions after midnight tonight. Others had cancelled doctors' appointments because they assumed they wouldn't have insurance.

Bruce Southworth, of St. Paul, said his 15-month-old grandson won't be able to see a doctor. He said his daughter doesn't know what to do.

"The Medical Assistance will go by the wayside," he said.

Southworth was surprised to learn that the judge's ruling preserved funding for the health care program and other basic services. He said he plans to call his daughter right away to let her know.

"That's very good news because she's been really quite worried," he said. "She's 21, and a single mom, going to school full-time and working at a retail location. Something like this just throws her into a bit of a panic."

Sharon Dixon prepared for the shutdown by cancelling all of her doctor's appointments. She sees a doctor regularly to monitor her recovery from gastric bypass surgery. Dixon, 53, also cancelled an appointment to get her blood drawn because she thought she'd have to pay

"You cancel a lot of things because you don't know, and you know you can't afford it," she said. "And the last thing I need is to be turned over to a collections agency because I can't afford my bills."

Dixon started preparing for the shutdown when she received a letter from Marshall County saying she could lose all her benefits on July 1. Dixon receives Medical Assistance and $16 a month in food support.

She said she's used to getting by without much money. Dixon lives in Grygla, a small town in northern Minnesota, about an hour from Thief River Falls. She goes fishing a few times a week to supplement her food budget. Yesterday, she caught 92 bullheads and plans to freeze them to eat in the winter.

But she worries about other people who might still think they don't have any benefits. "What about those cancer patients that can't afford the chemo and think nobody's paying for it?" she said.

Although Dixon received a letter telling her to prepare for a shutdown, she said she hasn't received any letter telling her that her benefits will not be affected.

"I haven't heard anything from them for at least two weeks," she said. "They should let me know."

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