Fundraising for medical expenses common in Colorado

10:26 PM, Dec 2, 2009   |    comments
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"He had to have two surgeries on his hip and wrist. And he had traumatic brain injury also," Allan Baclasky's wife Cindy said.

Allan Baclasky, a teacher at Loveland High School, was hit by a car on Sept. 14 while riding his bike. Despite wearing a helmet and reflective gear and staying in the bike lane, he was still seriously injured and spent eleven days in a coma. The Baclaskys say Allan received great medical care, but it has cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars," Cindy Baclasky estimates.

The couple has private insurance, which is covering the medical expenses. Extra expenses like lost wages and hotel bills (since Allan Baclasky is being cared for in Denver), are starting to add up. That's where the fundraiser comes in.

"It just is overwhelming and we really thank everyone for all their doing," Cindy Baclasky said.

Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine Dr. Mark Earnest says many of the fundraisers we see in Colorado benefit people who, unlike the Baclaskys, do not have health insurance.

"Most of the time, it's not something extraordinary, in terms of what they're wanting to be covered. It's a service that would usually be covered if somebody had health insurance," he said.

In other cases, medical fundraisers are used to help people with rare conditions get care that may be considered experimental and, thus, not covered by insurance. Such is the case for Jennifer Krueger. Her 7-month-old son suffers from a rare skin condition, Epidermolytic Hyperkeratosis.

"He basically lacks the protein that is used to hold the skin to his body," Krueger said.

Doctors didn't know Jeremiah had the painful condition until after he was born.

"It looked like a rubber glove, if it broke and fell apart. That's what the first layer of his skin did," Krueger recalled.

Since she got the diagnosis, the mother of four and her husband have been working to get Jeremiah the best treatment possible. She and her husband are on private insurance through her husband's job. But the family qualified to have their children covered under Medicaid.

"Even before Jeremiah was born, it was tough to pay medical bills," Krueger said, adding that Medicaid has covered all six of Jeremiah's hospital stays so far.

"It's awesome," she said. "They cover just about everything. There's a few things they don't cover that they consider elective."

One of those elective treatments is a visit to the Mayo Clinic. Krueger says an initial visit/consultation would cost the family at least $3,000.

"The Mayo Clinic does not accept Colorado Medicaid," she said.

That's why family members and friends have begun holding fundraisers to help Jeremiah get treatment at the Mayo Clinic. The results have been even more than Krueger imagined.

"It's amazing. There's no way we could even dream of going to Mayo, if not for those fundraisers. We now are able to get there for the $3,000 and have some labs, procedures and treatment done," she said.

Earnest says insurance companies not offering coverage for expensive procedures that may be considered experimental is a complicated facet of health care, which often leads to difficult decisions.

"At some point, you have to have a conversation about how much something costs versus how much you get back for it," he said. "If it costs you a million dollars to extend somebody's life for six months, that million dollars can't be spent on someone else."

Even when they are successful, Earnest says medical fundraisers aren't always the ultimate answer for someone with a terminal illness.

"That may make a difference for one person to offset their debt," he said. "But it won't pay to cure a child of leukemia, for example."

In his own practice, Earnest has had a number of patients who have had to raise their own money for some treatments.

"It happens all the time... people do get some degree of care and then they're left with the bill," he said.

Now that Congress is closer to passing some type of health care reform, it is Earnest's opinion that such a move could impact the number of people who have to raise money for medical treatment.

"I think the reality is if we covered everybody with the basic package, you would see very little fundraising," he said. "There would be some people who want things that aren't covered. Or things that aren't extraordinary and they may choose to spend their own money on that or they may privately fundraise."

He adds that, even with reform, patients should continue to communicate with health care providers and insurers about their medical coverage concerns.

"We're going to have to continue to do what we're doing now and that's continue to have a conversation about what treatments are worth us covering," he said . "As a community, we have a part in setting up a contract. How much we're willing to pay in. And what things do we want to come out of that."

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