The CBS 2 Investigators have been exposing a problem for some of the sickest kids in northwest Indiana. Insurance rules mean most of their families have to drive hours to access care. But that might be changing. CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey has an update.
IRIKA SARGENT: For months, the CBS 2 investigators have been exposing a problem for some of the sickest kids in northwest Indiana. Insurance rules mean most of their families have to drive hours to get access to care. But tonight, we're learning that might soon be changing. CBS 2 investigator Megan Hickey joins us now live with the update. Megan?
MEGAN HICKEY: Irika, for years, lawmakers have tried to fix the Medicaid rules to make it easier for sick kids in northwest Indiana to be treated at the much closer Chicago hospitals. Tonight, finally, a breakthrough.
Two-year-old Elena Darnell can't speak.
- Here, you try it.
MEGAN HICKEY: She also can't quite breathe on her own.
- Good job.
MEGAN HICKEY: But she can make music, something her mom, Jessica, couldn't imagine when she was born two years ago.
- She was not alive when she was born, so they brought her back. They had to resuscitate her three times, so definitely a blessing.
MEGAN HICKEY: Elena's family lives in Merrillville, Indiana, about 45 minutes from her specialists in Chicago who have treated her since she was born. But the family was told that that would have to change.
- Now, they're like, well, we don't take Indiana Medicaid. They don't pay the same reimbursement rates, so you're going to have to go somewhere else.
MEGAN HICKEY: Indiana's current Medicaid rules mean that Elena's treatment would be COVID at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. The only problem is it's 150 miles away. But can you afford to drive two and a half hours each way for a doctor's appointment?
- No. And it is sad that they can't have that quality of care closer to home.
MEGAN HICKEY: Indianapolis is also the only option for East Chicago mom Courtney Hammer and her three-year-old daughter, Journey, who also suffers from a range of heart and neurological problems.
MEGAN HICKEY: Several bills have been introduced to try to fix it, but none of them passed, the latest in 2019--
- Our family's quality of life and financial stability is so much more important.
MEGAN HICKEY: --when Elena's mom testified in support. But it's looking like 2021 will change all of that. The bill passed out of the house in February, and just this week cleared the senate. Indiana State Senator and sponsor Mike Bohacek tells me it's the culmination of two long years of work. Would this bill being signed into law be life-changing for Elena?
- Oh, absolutely. Woo. [LAUGHS] She will have more opportunities and options, and be able to kind of go wherever we feel is fit for her. And I think that would be a huge blessing.
MEGAN HICKEY: Now, the bill hasn't crossed the finish line yet, but it's close. It still has to go through an amendment process, and then to the governor's desk to sign. Irika?
IRIKA SARGENT: Oh, so much hope needed for those families for this. Megan, how many kids could be impacted by this change?
MEGAN HICKEY: So we don't know exactly how many kids in northwest Indiana would need this type of advanced care. But just to give you a sense of the numbers, nearly half of kids in northwest Indiana under the age of nine are on Medicaid.
IRIKA SARGENT: OK. CBS 2 investigator Megan Hickey, thank you.