Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kaiser DME denial discriminates against disabilities

Kaiser recently denied a speech generating device for our daughter. After some research, I wrote this letter and thought to post it here in case it is useful for others:

Member Case Resolution Center
4480 Hacienda Dr., Building B, 4th Floor
Pleasanton, CA 94588
Fax: 925-924-5165

October 22, 2009

Dear Ms. _____,

Regarding the denial of a medically necessary speech-generating device for my nine-year old daughter, , we dispute the decision of Dr. H for three reasons:
1. In reaching a recommendation contrary to the finding of the Kaiser licensed speech and language pathologist (who did meet with our daughter for an evaluation) Dr. H never met our child in person (other than in passing in the hallway). And, based on the generic rationale for denial, we have no evidence that Dr. H completed a thorough review of the AAC assessment from Dr. B (enclosed);
2. The standard Kaiser formulary criteria for speech generating devices discriminate against patients based on age and disability; and
3. Based on the extensive report of AAC assessment, our child does meet the formulary criteria, in spite of their discriminatory nature.

Additionally, we are aware of the case brought by Disability Rights Advocates Metzler et al. v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. et al. Case No. 829265-2, alleging that Kaiser fails to provide people with mobility disabilities full and equal access to Kaiser Permanente—California Division’s health services and facilities, in violation of California Civil Code §§ 51, et seq., 54, et seq., and 3345, California Government Code §§ 11135, et seq., and the regulations promulgated thereunder, and Section 17200 of the California Business and Professions Code.

Parts 24 and 25 of the settlement agreement for which reads:
"24. Plaintiffs have raised issues concerning Kaiser's policies and procedures for the procurement and maintenance and repair of durable medical equipment for members with disabilities. The parties have determined that they need additional time to address these issues. Accordingly, the parties agree to use their best efforts and to proceed in good faith to address these issues and arrive at a future agreement resolving them. In the event that such an agreement is not reached, the release provided in Paragraphs 41 -42 shall not apply to plaintiff's claims relating to durable medical equipment.

25. With the assistance of the parties, the Access Policy Consultant(s) and/or the Access Policy Work Group will review Kaiser’s policies and procedures (or the absence thereof) for addressing the communication needs of people with vision, speech, hearing, and cognitive disabilities and, where appropriate, will recommend reasonable modifications that Kaiser will adopt and implement. With respect to the model facilities, this review, recommendation, and implementation process shall be completed within one year from the effective date of this Agreement. The review, recommendation, and implementation process for all Kaiser facilities in California shall be completed within three years from the effective date of this Agreement."

With respect to the formulary, you stated in the denial letter dated October 13, 2009 that a speech generating device (numbering ours for ease of reference):
PART I: Will be covered if:
A. Have completed at least 2 years of speech therapy with out improve communication/speech and
B. Have a care-giver [sic] who has the ability to provide for maintenance and training the use of the device and
C. Mental and cognitive abilities to generate speech and
D. Comprehension and expression of language equivalent to at least that of a five year old
PART II: And meets one of the following criteria
1. Loss of previously developmentally normal speech through illness, trauma or degenerative disease with retained cognitive abilities
2. Failure to achieve speech communication using adequate alternative means.
PART III: Not covered for:
a) Use in developing language
b) Education goals
c) Child has spoken language adequate for expression of needs

With respect to Part I:
1. Criterion A. As stated in the enclosed report, provided to Dr. Hayward, “Emma continues to demonstrate severe oral motor and verbal apraxia and would not benefit from traditional speech therapy. The only remedy for her impairment is a speech generating device” (p. 4: Buzolich, 7/23/09).
2. Criterion B. Emma has two care-givers in the home who are able to care for, maintain and program the device. Her parents have attended trainings online, rented a device for home trial and were able to mount, adjust attack angle and positioning and dwell times, program pages and train others to use the device.
3. Criterion C and D “mental and cognitive abilities to generate speech and comprehension and expression equivalent to at least that of a five year old” discriminate against patients on the basis of developmental or intellectual disability and age. Many patients with developmental disabilities have a medical need for speech generating devices though they many never develop the complex syntax and vocabulary of a five year old. To discriminate against this class of disability is to invite a legal test. In addition, these clauses allow previously neurotypical adults with trauma or illness to lose ten to twenty years of cognitive capacity and still qualify, while young children have to meet and/or surpass their typically developing peers in order to qualify. We do not believe these clauses of the formulary could stand a legal test. We are sure you will wish to reconsider these as they invite a class to seek legal remedy.
4. In spite of this, we urge you to consider that in Emma’s case, Dr. Buzolich’s report clearly indicates that Emma has receptive conversational language comparable to children of her age (8 years). She is currently working comfortably in a modified second grade curriculum and meeting many first and kindergarten grade level standards, including expressed comprehension of such complex concepts as sequencing events, using fractions, and counting by fives and tens. She has eagerly embraced every system of communication offered to her for as long as she could use it, including speech (before she became symptomatic), sign language and PECs and currently a robust eye-gaze communication system that includes her 84 e-tran boards (Buzolich, p2-4). Her receptive vocabulary far exceeds her expressive vocabulary, thus she meets Kaiser’s criteria despite their discriminatory nature.

With respect to PART II:
1. Emma had approximately 100 words at age 18 months, well within the benchmark range. She has retained much of her cognitive function and continued to develop cognitively and linguistically since then.
2. Emma has, as previously noted, not benefited from speech therapy.

With respect to PART III:
Again we note that these three clauses together and each discriminate against patients based on their age and disability.
a) Criterion a: not to be used for language development. This criterion discriminates against minors in violation of civil rights law; all children and young adults develop language. This means that only older adults may qualify under this criterion, clearly discriminating against children. While Emma is still developing language (as her typically developing peers are) she has language to meet #4, Part I.
b) Criterion b: not covered for educational goals. Kaiser does not proscribe the use of any other medical devices provided by Kaiser such as wheel chairs, standers, walkers, glasses, hearing aides, or orthotics even when these are obviously used at school and in meeting educational goals such as ambulating in Physical Education or reading, listening and speaking (developing language) in Language Arts. Since adults are not affected by this exclusive criterion, it unfairly discriminates against children with disabilities that severely impair communication. In spite of this objection, Emma does NOT need this device for educational needs as stated by Dr. Hayward in her original denial. In the comprehensive AAC report, Dr. Buzolich clarifies that Emma has a My Tobii P-10, purchased by her school district, in her classroom and uses this to access her daily curriculum (Buzolich, p. 1). Emma needs this speech device for use primarily in the home. We note that in your denial of DME (transportation option for Emma’s chair) Kaiser stated that DME is for use primarily in the home.
c) Criterion c: Child has spoken language adequate for expression of needs. This criterion discriminates against minors and an entire class of disability: children with severe communication disorders. Adults with ALS or MS who have spoken language to ask for their needs are not proscribed from speech generating devices by this criterion. Since “adequate expression of needs” is undefined the criterion is overly broad. Young children have many needs that require complex communication. Emma needs to communicate simple needs, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue and restroom—all available to her on a 4x4 eye gaze board. However, even with a skilled partner, it is difficult for her to independently communicate more subtle needs, including: physical needs such as location and severity of pain, seizure aura; or emotional needs such as loneliness, anxiety about her health, fears about the future, or the content of nightmares that wake her in tears. Anything more complex than these common childhood needs, such as identifying a favorite classmate for play dates, recounting events of the day, discussing an upcoming event, telling her siblings to get off her chair or out of her room is beyond her ability to independently access. These are all age appropriate, very fundamentally and essential psycho-social communication needs. To deny her access to this language is medically negligent.

We hope that Kaiser will review Emma’s case and approve this request for speech-generating device as recommended by the Kaiser SLP, as Emma meets the current criterion. We also hope that this will prompt a review of these unfair and discriminatory criteria as it is in Kaiser’s best interest to uphold civil rights of its patients.