How a phone call to the Dayton Daily News grew into calls for reforming a state program

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This is a story about how a phone call to the Dayton Daily News grows into public calls for reform.

• The phone call: Rebecca Miller called me this summer, crying as she relayed how she feared being evicted from the home she lived in while caring for her father. Her father was on Medicaid, and after he died, the Ohio Attorney General sent her a letter saying the father owed $56,000 for services he received.

If she didn’t pay it, the state would put a lien on the home, the letter said.

“I’m going to be homeless because of all of this,” Miller feared.

I was generally aware that Medicaid goes after people’s assets after they die, especially if they spend their last days in a nursing home funded by Medicaid. But Miller’s story made me wonder exactly how the program works, and at what cost to Ohioans.

• Initial reporting: Reporter Nick Blizzard dug into the program, interviewing Miller and other impacted by it and analyzing state data plus state and national reports. He told Miller’s story, and found Ohio is one of the most aggressive states in the U.S. at estate recovery, and is among the minority of states that puts liens on residents’ homes.

Credit: STAFF

Credit: STAFF

After our first reports, additional people came forward to share their stories of struggles with the estate recovery program.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

• Staying with the story: Reporter Samantha Wildow joined the effort, revealing how estate recovery collects less than 1% of what the program pays out, and can sometimes charge more than services rendered.

• State reviewing program: We discovered that purely by coincidence, Ohio Medicaid was in the middle of a mandated review of the program. They were accepting public comment (but proposing slight wording changes with no impact on how the program operates). But the comment period was only one week and wasn’t publicized — until we reported on it.

• Calls for reform: That led a flood of people to send public comments calling for more comprehensive changes. Nearly all of the comments came in the last days of the comment period, after our reporting. Several of them cited our reporting. Go here for the full story.

Many comments specifically focused on changes to the hardship waiver process, which allows people to appeal the recovery process based on personal circumstances. Personal testimony included in comments suggests the waiver process doesn’t work for everyone.

“Thank goodness. Dayton Daily News uncovered this ruse. How manipulative and unjust can you get? Help the people, not rip us off!” one comment read.

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