STATE HOUSE SNAPSHOT

To Promote Bills, Amputees Describe Insurance Travails

In a lighter moment during a House panel hearing, Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake shows off his prosthetic leg. To his right are Lorenzo Smith, who lost a leg when he was hit by a car, and his mother, Albertha Jackson-Smith.
In a lighter moment during a House panel hearing, Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake shows off his prosthetic leg. To his right are Lorenzo Smith, who lost a leg when he was hit by a car, and his mother, Albertha Jackson-Smith. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By Philip Rucker
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lorenzo Smith was hanging out with friends in his Suitland neighborhood after school one afternoon about two years ago. That's when the speeding car struck.

Sixteen operations later, doctors amputated Smith's right leg from the knee down. He figured he would get a prosthetic leg, and things would be close to normal.

But it was not that easy, as Smith, 15, and his mother told a panel of Maryland legislators yesterday.

"I will never forget the extreme dismay my child suffered when I told him the leg was not an option for us," said his mother, Albertha Jackson-Smith.

Smith was one of several amputees who testified yesterday before the Maryland General Assembly, telling the House Health and Government Operations Committee in sometimes gripping detail that their medical insurance companies would not pay the full costs of their prosthetic limbs.

The amputees pleaded with legislators to join other states in supporting the Prosthetic Parity Act, which would require insurers to cover prosthetic devices.

Many private companies restrict or preclude coverage of prosthetic limbs, but Medicaid, Medicare and state nonprofit health insurance plans cover all such devices without restrictions.

Jackson-Smith told lawmakers she learned that her son's insurance company would pay for only half of the cost of his leg. The microprocessing knee that would give Smith a normal gait and greater agility would cost thousands more.

"These legs cost about $40,000," Smith told lawmakers. "It's like buying a brand new Mercedes-Benz."

So his mother raised money from neighbors and friends to pay the other half. She hosted a walk-a-thon and a gala fundraising dinner and established the Lorenzo Smith Fund.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who introduced the legislation, said that many amputees cannot afford prosthetic limbs unless their insurance companies cover the full costs.

"Maryland families should never again have to suffer the indignity of holding a bake sale or car wash to pay for a prosthetic device," Mizeur said.


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