Levi Ross is a high school senior who goes to Prarie View High School in Lacygne, Kansas, a tiny town of about 1,200 about an hour south of Kansas City. He’s an athlete, excelling in basketball and soccer, and is headed to college in the fall. But all of his plans and activities were turned upside down in February when doctors found a rare form of cancer in his spinal cord.
The cancer, called Epithelioid Sarcoma, required a highly specialized form of surgery to save his life — a surgery that no hospital in Kanas was able to perform. Levi would need to travel out of the state just to have a shot at staying alive and seeing his college years.
There was only one problem. Under recent changes to the Kansas health care system institute by state’s governor Sam Brownback, about 400,000 Kansas residents were channeled out of the public Medicaid health insurance program into a new, privately-run, profit-making system called KanCare.
Under Brownback’s new system, three private insurance companies run the health care system for people such as Levi Ross.
And one of those companies, first of all, sat on Levi’s claim for several weeks, forcing the teen and his family to wait — and wait — to find out whether he would be allowed to receive the life-saving surgery.
In that waiting time, Levi’s tumor only got bigger. Three times bigger.
Then finally, the state-contracted private company came through with its answer about whether the procedure that would allow Levi Ross to go on living or die from cancer before even graduating high school came through.
The company’s answer was — no.
Why not? Well, the company told him that he had to get the surgery at a hospital in Kansas, even though his own doctors told him that was impossible — a decision that seemingly made no sense, and there was no good explanation forthcoming, either.
“They are ultimately the payer, but they also certainly don’t want any bad outcome to come from a patient not receiving the necessary services,” said Sara Belfry, of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
A nice sentiment, but that fact is that unless St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee told Levi he could have his surgery there, the young man would have simply died. The doctors at St. Jude’s told him that he had only a week to live before getting the needed operation.
“There’s no way that by staying in Kansas that I would have stayed alive,” Ross said later. “I feel pretty good considering I’ve had a massive surgery. It’s really sad. It’s very upsetting that we divide ourselves by states.”
Levi Ross will still have considerable costs associated with his cancer care and even though he is back in Kansas, they won’t all be covered. His family has created a crowdfunding page to help with those costs on GiveForward.com, which can be reached at this link.
[Image: Levi Ross & Kenny Ross GiveForward.com]