Patients-to-policy story: Ensuring people with chronic conditions maintain access to care

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

By Kate Marple & Erin Dexter National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership

When Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C. hired its first in-house lawyer in 1986, it was to help HIV and AIDS patients write wills, secure disability benefits, and fight discrimination — all to ease suffering as they prepared for the end of life. Thankfully, advancements in medical treatment mean that people with HIV and AIDS are living longer, healthier lives. It also means that the health center’s now 10 attorneys, two paralegals, and 15 insurance navigators play a very different role in patient care. Among other things, they lead Whitman-Walker’s health insurance eligibility and enrollment efforts. And that’s how in the Spring of 2016, attorney Erin Loubier came to receive a call from the head of the District’s Health Benefits Exchange Authority (HBX) with news that CareFirst — one of the two biggest insurers in the D.C. Marketplace — intended to discontinue its platinum level plan widely used by Whitman-Walker’s 3,600 HIV-positive patients.

In the fifth story in our patients-to-policy series, the medical-legal partnership team at Whitman-Walker Health helped prevent platinum insurance plans that were widely used by patients with chronic conditions from being eliminated in the D.C. Marketplace. Through advocacy with the insurance commissioner and insurance companies, thousands of patients maintained access to care.