Monica Yant Kinney: A reverse twist on medical insurance

At Park Towne Place, Jimmy Curran checks out an apartment with his sister, Adrian. With his new job, he loses some of his insurance coverage.
At Park Towne Place, Jimmy Curran checks out an apartment with his sister, Adrian. With his new job, he loses some of his insurance coverage. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 11, 2011

Jimmy Curran should celebrate.

The 22-year-old Montgomery County native graduated from Temple University's honors program with a finance degree in May and parlayed experience at prestigious internships - on Wall Street and Capitol Hill - into a job offer at Independence Blue Cross.

Last week, Curran and a pal found an apartment in a Center City high-rise. On Monday, he starts work as a market research analyst for the insurer, remarkable given how many smart and savvy grads remain sidelined by the economy.

So what ails this young corporate climber? The gnawing feeling that he's about to be punished for doing exactly what he was told.

By refusing to be defined by his disability, Curran inexplicably landed in limbo with Pennsylvania officials poised to cancel the home health assistance he needs to live.

"I want to work. I'm meant to work . . . but I'm being held hostage by a system that does not want to see me succeed," Curran tells anyone who will listen - a group that so far includes two state legislators, scores of state welfare officials, and a half-dozen advocates equally baffled by his dilemma.

Here is a young man eager to get off Social Security disability and become a productive tax-, rent-, and copaying member of society. And the government's trying to stop him?

'Hot Wheels' steamed

When I meet Curran for coffee at Starbucks on Market Street, he wears a navy blazer, tan loafers, and a gray pallor of indignation. Only the scowl is unusual for a lighthearted guy who once called himself "Hot Wheels."

Curran was diagnosed as a baby with spinal muscular atrophy. The condition affects none of his organs but all his extremities. He can type 50 words a minute and analyze financial data with ease, but requires help eating, bathing, and dressing.

When he was a child, his family bore the burden. Home health aides covered by his mother's insurance assisted him at Temple until he aged out at 21 and qualified for 56 hours a week of aides and nursing care - a $185,000 bill paid with state and federal money.

"If I didn't work," he laments, "I could stay on this waiver forever."

But why do nothing when he could save the government money?

With a job, Curran qualifies for lesser, but similar, services at about half the cost through a state-run program that also requires him to contribute to his care.

After striking out on 20-plus interviews, Curran got in the door at Independence Blue Cross thanks to a referral from a famous fan: Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy, who introduced himself after observing the student on campus.

"I'm inspired by people like Jimmy," Dunphy tells me. "He lets nothing get in his way."

Rolling the dice

Curran's caseworkers at Liberty Resources, a nonprofit promoting independent living for the disabled, presumed his transition would be smooth, because he's medically entitled to the help either way. But the Act 150 program for the working disabled has a waiting list (Curran is No. 286) and an evaporating pool of money due to recent budget cuts.

"This," notes Liberty chief operating officer Linda Dezenski, "is the first time we've had a significant problem getting people on this program."

State welfare officials tell me Curran renders himself ineligible for the care he now receives the moment he earns more than $2,000 a month. But there's no telling whether or when he could cycle onto Act 150.

So Curran risks losing his services, his job, or both? (The corporate strategy position he landed comes with benefits, but "no insurance plans cover what I need.")

"This will be a waste of taxpayer money if he doesn't work," gripes Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), who intervened for his constituent. Leach called the catch-22 "one of those boneheaded government policies" in dire need of a fix.

Curran remains both discouraged and determined. He's reporting for work regardless of the risk. He has faced obstacles before and rolled over each and every one.

"Whatever the consequences," he vows, "I will deal with as they come."


Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, myant@phillynews.com, or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.

 

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