A mother speaks out against competitive bidding

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

MIAMI — It's one thing to hear the state's providers talk of the adverse affects the Medicaid competitive bidding project could have on beneficiaries.

"Some people are going to get hurt," said Robert Slama, owner of the Lakeland, Fla.-based Medi-Health, "if not killed."

It's another thing to hear it straight from a mother whose son receives oxygen equipment and supplies from Medicaid.

Meet 49-year-old Lolly Gonsales.

Gonsales' son Oscar had a tracheotomy at age 2. Ever since, he's struggled with pulmonary diseases. He's been on oxygen for 12 years, and today, at age 20, he's on a ventilator.

"Right now, we have a very close, one-on-one relationship with our provider," Gonsales said.

With competitive bidding, though, which calls for just one provider to serve each multiple-county region, she sees that relationship ending.

For Gonsales, the competitive bidding project means Oscar's life will be "in the hands of the lowest bidder." It means she'll be forced to trade in his ventilator for a cheaper version, one that will fail to meet his breathing demands or that will break more easily. It means she'll have to call 911 and take him to the emergency room, if his ventilator breaks after 5 p.m.

Finally, and possibly most devastatingly, it means Oscar, who has been using liquid oxygen for transportability, will have to use a concentrator that requires an electrical outlet.

"My son will be confined to his room and deprived of what little freedom he has now," she said. "Not to mention my electricity bill will go up by $35-$45 a month."

Gonsales says she won't have any of it.

She has set up a Web site, thesunsetsummit.homestead.com/Sb2000~ie4.html, telling her story and asking visitors to call or e-mail Gov. Jeb Bush. She's mailed hundreds of letters to the governor and the state's members of Congress. She's been in contact with Joan Cross, president of the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES).

"I'm going to win this fight for Oscar and everyone like him," she said. "We're already being compromised. It can't get any worse."

Gonsales is no stranger to overcoming challenges. Faced with caring for a son plagued with pulmonary diseases, she returned to school several years ago. In 2000, she earned an associate in science degree for respiratory care from Miami Dade Community College.

"I did that to better understand the mechanics of his body, so that I could be his voice," she said. "I'm saying, he's saying, this is wrong. It's out of control." HME