In a big complex society like ours somebody is always falling between the cracks. Jessica has learned that at an early age.
Jessica is only 6 months old. But already she is a nonperson. She's a baby-fat beautiful with black hair and blue eyes. Right now she's working on her first tooth and trying to master the art of not falling down.
Jessica's problem is that she was born to a 17-year-old girl who isn't married. That's a long and painful story. Jessica will pay dues on that for a long time. There isn't enough space here to tell it.
Jessica and her teen-age mother live with Jessica's grandfather. He's 50, a 22-year government worker. He isn't starving. He loves both his daughter and his granddaughter. And he worries, a lot, about their future.
Jessica's grandfather has a government-sponsored health insurance plan. It's a good one. It covers his daughter, Jessica's mother, because she is a dependent living with him. But not Jessica. Under the law, she isn't a member of the family.
Jessica hasn't had any special medical problems. She gets regular check-ups, takes vitamins and gets the shots a 6-month-old girl needs. But her granfather worries that she might get sick, or hurt, and need major medical care. That costs.
The government says it cannot cover Jessica under its health plan for employees. It could only if Jessica's grandfather would adopt her, making his granddaughter his daughter. He doesn't want that.
"If we tell my daughter we're going to adopt Jessica, we're saying to her that it doesn't matter what happens to you, its only the baby that counts . . . We just want to say to my daughter that we're with you; that's all that matters; we're together."
Jessica's grandfather thinks he's done everything. He went to two congressional offices, hoping for special legislation that would permit him to include the baby temporarily in his health insurance plan.They said it probably wouldn't pass.
Since he lives in Maryland, Jessica's grandfather contacted Post Maryland correspondent Felicity Barringer. Felicity spent hours talking with him, trying to cut through red tape, trying to get a story but mainly trying to help Jessica.
This column contacted federal offficials. They were sympathetic to Jessica's status at an early age as a nonperson. But there is nothing they can do.
"This kind of thing is tragic," a federal insurance official said. "We get cases that would break your heart. There is the elderly parent who, in effect, is dependent on a working son or daughter. There are other relatives who need help and protection under the health plan. The law says we can't help them. I wish we could."
If the government let Jessica in under her grandfather's plan, officials say, where would it end? "Eventually, everybody in the country would wind up being covered, through some tie-in, under the federal health plan" now limited to employees and immediate family members. "Maybe that's the way it should be. I don't know. But we can't help Jessica now."
This really isn't much of a story because there are no villians, nobody to finger as the bad guy. People involved want to do the right thing, although one congressional office was rather brusque with Jessica's grandfather.
"I can't be the only grandfather this has happened to," Jessica said. "What our society is saying is that it is not enough - that if a baby for that, and we'll deprive it of health protection. Why I can't even buy a policy for Jessica unless I buy another one on my daughter, Jessica's mother.
That's about it.
A lot of people have tried to help Jessica. But she doesn't fit any of the proper categories. Maybe later someone can explain how making her a "special case" would set a precedent for other people to become special case. And maybe they can also explain what would be wrong with that.
When Jessica's mother is able to get work, maybe she can buy a health plan to cover her daughter. And someday Jessica will get a Social Security number, and a job, and credit cards, and maybe a new name and become a person.
Meantime, stay healthy, grandpa and Jessica.There are a lot of people concerned about you. But you just don't fit anywhere for now. Sorry.