Selma Cohen, an 87-year-old woman from Brooklyn, New York, recently lost her medical benefits — after the New York Bureau of Fraud Investigation erroneously marked her down as deceased. For Cohen, who relies on social welfare programs to survive, the news was life threatening. Her story has since gone viral, thanks to local news stations that picked up her story and shares on social media.
On September 19, Selma picked up her mail, only to receive the shocking news that her medical benefits were terminated, and she was considered dead.
Selma Cohen Mistakenly Declared Dead, Medical Benefits Stopped: Selma Cohen has had her medical benefits disco… http://t.co/yBmbJqZB2u
— Electric Gherkin (@electricgherkin) September 28, 2015
“I couldn’t believe it,” Cohen, a thyroid cancer survivor and widow, told the New York Daily News. “At first I thought it was a joke or something” that her medical benefits had been terminated.”
After calling her local Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Daily News reports that Selma Cohen was told to pay a visit to her local Medicaid office in Brooklyn. There, a clerk advised Selma that it was all “a computer error,” and after Cohen was told it could take several weeks to get her medical benefits reinstated, the cancer survivor began to panic.
The mistake that was so easily made would not be an easy fix. According to the Daily News, Cohen, an elderly widow, relies on her medical benefits to pay for the 14 medications she takes daily, as well as her routine doctor appointments. Without the medical benefits, Selma has no way to receive medical care.
“Do I have to pay because somebody put some wrong numbers into a computer?” Cohen queried about the obvious error that stripped her of her medical benefits.
Selma confessed that she has had two surgeries over the past 15 years for both thyroid and anal cancer, and according to letters from her Medicaid office, Cohen was supposed to receive benefits through December 31, 2015.
BK woman receives letter, says Medicaid cut off due to death: “I couldnt believe it,” said Selma Cohen, 87, a … http://t.co/WU4nqntfbM
— Daily News (@DailyNews724) September 27, 2015
Because of the error, Selma already had to cancel one necessary doctor appointment after she confirmed with the medical professional that her benefits were terminated.
After finding out her medical benefits were cut off, Cohen began to worry that her social security would end as well. Selma relies on her monthly social security check to pay for her home, and without it, she would be out on the street.
“It’s all in the computers and they’re not going to send something to somebody that’s dead,” she said. “It makes me extremely frustrated.”
Selma repeated her concerns to CBS New York, fretting, “If they have down that the lady is deceased, I doubt if they’re going to send me a check.”
As Cohen correctly believes, “[w]hen you’re dead, they don’t send you checks.”
During her visit to the Medicaid office in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Selma was told she would have to apply for a state ID to prove she was not deceased, reports CBS New York.
— Esha Ray (@TheEshaRay) September 25, 2015
A rep for the City Hall responded to an inquiry from the New York Daily News on September 26, assuring that officials were in the processes of reviewing Selma’s case. According to the spokesperson, who responded via email, “if there is an error we will take steps to correct.”
Although the process to clear up the error could have taken weeks, Selma happened on a bit of luck by taking her case to the media, reports CBS New York. After watching the 87-year-old Selma describe her struggles on the CBS2 News, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office got involved.
After seeing Cohen on Channel 2, the senator’s office placed a call to get Selma’s medical benefits reinstated.
“She told me she saw it on Channel 2, and that’s where she picked it up,” Cohen told CBS New York.
According to CBS New York, Senator Gillibrand released a statement that relayed her relief that Selma is receiving medical benefits again.
“We’re grateful to the news team for highlighting this case so we can make sure Ms. Cohen receives the services she needs,” the statement read.
[Image credits: Scott Olson/Getty Images]