Legal Aid Secures Health Coverage for a Foster Baby

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Karla Perry, Esq.

Karla Perry, Esq.

With a loving home and proper therapy, one child may avoid learning disabilities and behavior problems common to drug-addicted babies

There’s barely room to sit in William and Debra Weita’s Ohio City home, between the books and children’s toys, a large doll house and a stack of bibs. But it’s a warm and loving environment for babies who need foster parents.

Elizabeth, their ninth foster baby, was placed with them days after her birth in 2011 because of prenatal exposure to heroin, cigarettes and alcohol. The county tried to find a relative who wanted Elizabeth, but they ran out of options.

William and Debra were thrilled in 2012 to permanently adopt the energetic toddler who wears her bathing suit over her sweater, but their main concern was how to pay for her therapy.

Elizabeth’s exposure to drugs caused apraxia, or speech delays, and other developmental delays requiring therapy that would cost nearly 50% of the family’s income without insurance. Elizabeth’s speech therapy alone costs $800 a month. As foster parents, the Weitas receive county assistance for medical and other expenses, but Ms. Weita applied for a federal program called Title IVe that supports families who adopt children with special needs. The benefits are the same, but the federal Medicaid is permanent and stays with the child until she turns 18; county Medicaid must be renewed every year, and Ms. Weita was concerned that someday they might not qualify.

As an adoptive parent, she clearly met the criteria for the federal program, but Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) at first denied her application.

She filed an appeal herself, but realized she was in over her head. “I was getting bullied in that meeting. I knew they would respect an attorney, but we didn’t have money for that,” she said. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland was listed on the denial form, so she called. When supervising attorney Karla Perry took the case, Ms. Weita felt immediate relief.

Ms. Perry argued that the county was not using the prescribed standard to determine IVe eligibility and was applying their own interpretation of the rules. The hearing officer agreed. With Ms. Perry’s support, the family now receives around $500 a month to help with expenses for the child. Ms. Perry was also able to secure uninterrupted medical coverage during the transition, and Elizabeth can continue making progress with her speech therapy.

“Having an attorney made her feel empowered, like there was someone in her corner,” said Ms. Perry; although Ms. Weita knew the statutes, she needed the legal procedural knowledge.

“I might have lost the appeal and I might have given up,” said Ms. Weita. “There’s nothing else out there like Legal Aid.”

 

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