What's happening to Gerald Raspiller probably isn't news. It's the kind of thing that happens to poor, old people all the time. But to him, it burns as an injustice that cries out for correction. That's why he wants to tell his story.
'There are many older people who are upset about the system,' says Raspiller. 'If you get this out into the open, you might create enough pressure to change things.' Hope springs eternal.
Raspiller, 76, has lived in Madison for more than three decades. Before that, as a farmer in Lyndon Station, he became embroiled in a protracted legal battle for compensation from a traffic accident. That generated media attention, which he thinks made a difference. This time he turned to Isthmus, a paper he delivered as an independent contractor from 1991 to 2001.
Following an illness in September 2005, Raspiller landed in Karmenta Center, a nursing home on Milwaukee Street. Recently, he says, his Medicaid eligibility was reevaluated, and it was determined that his ownership of three vehicles, all more than 10 years old, put him over the limit for financial assets.
Under the law, nursing home residents who receive Medicaid cannot have assets, excluding homes and a few other things, worth more than $2,000. That's the total amount permitted in cash, savings, real estate, valuables, stocks, bonds and other investments.
'It's pretty little,' notes Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for the Disability Rights Coalition, adding that this meager threshold is more than two decades old. He agrees there should be some limit, so Uncle Sam isn't paying for people who could be paying themselves, but thinks $2,000 is unreasonably low.
'What's the right number?' asks Spitzer-Resnick. 'We as a society haven't had that discussion for a long time.'
Raspiller says he needs the vehicles for his newspaper distribution business, which he hopes to resume, and argues that they should be exempt. 'Am I not a better citizen for wanting to be self-sufficient?' he asks.
In fact, Raspiller's stubbornness in this regard has caused urgent problems.
Last week, Karmenta notified him by letter that he owes the center $2,400 beyond what Medicaid has covered. The consequences of noncompliance were clear and severe.
'In the event that you fail to pay your balance in full, we will proceed with [your] discharge on Jan. 31,' wrote Nola Feldcamp, the home's administrator. She also asked Raspiller to designate Karmenta 'as your representative payee to ensure timely payment of your patient liability and avoid this situation in the future.'
Raspiller says this would mean letting Karmenta cash his Social Security checks, keeping all but an allowance of $45 a month, less than he needs for basic expenses.
'They're trying to convert me into a beggar,' he says. 'If I do what they want, I'll eliminate any future I have except as a captive.'
Feldcamp did not respond to an inquiry from Isthmus. But Holin Kennen, a benefits specialist with the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, confirms that a person with assets over $2,000 is in peril: 'If the state finds an individual has something tucked away, their Medicaid could be terminated,' until these excess assets are spent.
And Matt Rohloff of the state Board of Aging and Longterm Care says that while nursing homes cannot evict residents into the street, they can initiate involuntary discharge for financial reasons, 'to perhaps a shelter.'
So this is Raspiller's choice: Sell off his hope of a life outside of a nursing home or be booted from the home. It's a terrible bind, one that media attention is unlikely to change. After all, he's old and poor, and rules are rules.
Thanks, vigilant readers, for calling attention to two media moments of concern. Watchdog has looked into both and wants you to know that everything's fine.
First, it was just inattentive copy editing that led the Wisconsin State Journal on Jan. 17 to run a wire story referring to Martin Sheen as 'the Democrat actor.' As The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg has noted, this 'deliberate misnaming' of the word Democratic by George W. Bush and other Republicans is meant as a 'slur' and 'a handy way to express contempt.'
'We're still using Democratic,' assures State Journal news editor Julie Shirley, vowing to make sure her copy desk is 'on the lookout' for this improper usage. Woo-hoo.
And someone just goofed on Sunday, Jan. 21, when WISC-Channel 3 gave hours of airplay to a huge banner announcing, of all things, 'Wauzeka Schools opening 2 hours late.' This consumed a broad swath at the top of the screen during much of the AFC championship game and subsequent programs, which were consequently compressed.
What, was this seen as the news flash of the century? Was there widespread concern at Channel 3 that students in Wauzeka, wherever that is, might show up early?
'It was supposed to be turned off, and nobody turned it off,' explains Jeff Robbins, the station's assistant program director. And yes, he's aware that the banner bore the name of a paid sponsor, Prairie Athletic Club. 'They were probably very happy,' Robbins reflects. 'We should be asking for some more change from them, or maybe get some free memberships.' Good luck with that.
Worse skating season ever?
Fritz Kroncke, recreation supervisor for the Madison Parks Division, puts it in perspective: 'This year's really a pathetic year.' The city's ice-skating rinks were open for three days in December and not again till Wednesday, Jan. 24. 'We've been closed almost all the rest of the time.' And even this past week, the rinks were rendered unusable several days by warmer weather and snow.
Worse, even if the cold continues, the potential skate season is almost over. After about Feb. 22, the sun starts to melt the shoreline, preventing rink maintenance.
Kroncke says ice skating constitutes the bulk of the division's winter activities budget, which topped $550,000 in both 2006 and 2007. This winter, permanent staff were put to work pruning trees and such, while seasonal staff have mainly missed out. 'A lot of them were kind of upset about it,' reports Kroncke.
The good news? George Bush has finally admitted there's such a thing as global warming.
'Snot his problem
Chuck Strawser, interim manager of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, which last week booted its executive director under still-mysterious circumstances, responding to a listserv reminder that riders in the upcoming Frozen Snot Century ride (destination: Chicago) need places in Madison to stay: 'Yes, please do let BFW know if you can host a rider in Madison the night of Friday, Feb 23. Just don't [expect] us to respond too quickly, because, frankly and unfortunately, housing for the Frozen Snot riders isn't very high up on my priority list at the moment.' Sniff.
Shoot first, ask questions later
From a letter to the editor in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal: 'I wonder what the [earlier] letter writer who criticized police use of a Taser on a student would think if the 14-year-old was found to have a deadly weapon? [He wasn't.] I think one out-of-control young man being Tasered is a small price to pay...to avoid risking another tragedy like the one the Weston school district suffered.'