Disabled woman fights state, worries vulnerable Hoosiers could be denied benefits

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A disabled woman and her lawyers hope to get the word out about her case, after she was initially denied medical benefits three years in a row.

For nearly 50 years, Kayla Pollaro's brain has put up fences around her life. She lives alone, can't drive, and sometimes, can't even function.

"It’s almost like you black out and you come to and have no memory of what you did," Pollaro said.

Doctors diagnosed Pollaro with epilepsy in 1969, when she was less than two years old. A few years ago, she moved from western New York to Indiana, seeking out a new treatment that might lessen her seizures.

Soon, though, Pollaro said it was not just her brain - but the state - blocking her way.

"I was running out of medications and I couldn’t get a doctor lined up," Pollaro said.

That's because the state denied her Medicaid, saying she wasn't eligible. Pollaro had to get a lawyer through Indiana Legal Services.

Staff attorney Amy Freeland took on Pollaro's case, and won it, but every year since then, when Pollaro has to go through a reassessment for eligibility, she's been denied again. Each time, Freeland has had to step in and work to get her benefits reinstated.

The latest time, this March, Pollaro decided to call CBS4 Problem Solvers.

"I felt something had to be done and publicized about it, where it gets some attention," Pollaro said.

The issue here is a benefit for what the Social Security Administration calls "disabled adult children." Those are people like Pollaro, who have been disabled since before the age of 22. They can get help after their parents age or die and can no longer care for them.

The benefits are not supposed to count against Pollaro's Medicaid eligibility, but Freeland thinks the state's system is not flagging it, so it's kicking people who are eligible out of the program.

"These are people who have, usually, developmental disabilities," Freeland said.

Another of Freeland's clients is severely disabled, unable even to speak. Freeland told CBS4 she is worried this same issue could be hurting some of Indiana's most vulnerable citizens.

"I really just don’t know how many people are out there that this affects," Freeland said.

It certainly affects Pollaro, who showed us a magnetic device she had implanted to help her seizures.

A brain surgery in 2015 also solved a problem for Pollaro: she learned for sure that it is stress that contributes to her seizures. She said she's hoping the state will alleviate that stress by fixing the flaw and ensuring people like her don't have to worry if they're covered.

"It’s not improving my health, it’s making it worse," Pollaro said.

CBS4 Problem Solvers reached out to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees Medicaid eligibility, and received the following statement through a spokesperson:

"Ms. Pollaro currently is covered under Medicaid, and her coverage is considered by FSSA as continuous since May 2014. Any time her coverage has been temporarily terminated, it ultimately has been reinstated by FSSA, and she holds no financial liability as a result of the temporary termination. Appropriate agency staff conducted an operational evaluation and determined the issue is neither common nor systemic, but changes have been made to FSSA’s internal policy manuals to help clarify and further educate the agency’s eligibility determination staff on how to process Ms. Pollaro's non-conventional income sources when determining her ongoing eligibility for Medicaid disability benefits."

Indiana Legal Services wants people to know that they can help with Medicaid eligibility. Freeland encouraged anyone who thinks they might have the same issue, or who is receiving the same benefit as Pollaro, to contact the agency. You can find more information and apply for assistance online at the link here.

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