Uninformed decisions prove costly for adoptive parents

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Adoptive parents in Hampton reached out to 10 On Your Side after they say they were not given the information they needed, which led to them making uninformed decisions that cost them a lot of money in health care coverage for the 6-year-old girl who is now their child.

Brenda and Lou Marks tried to do the right thing, but by doing that, they say the system worked against them. During Ana’s adoption, the judge gave them a difficult choice.

“We could keep her and have custody of her or he would have no choice but to put her in foster care,” explained adoptive mother, Brenda Marks.

The Marks’ said the choice was a no-brainer. They took home 6-year-old Ana instead of putting her in foster care until her adoption was final.

That loving decision to take Ana home cost the Marks’ big time.

“We tell everyone we went into court looking for a glass of water, and came out with Niagara Falls.” That is how Brenda Marks describes the joy she had in October 2011 when the judge gave her that choice pending the outcome of the adoption, “I wanted her to have a stable life, that she knew when she woke up in her bed this morning she’d be in the same bed tonight.”

Three years later, on October 10, 2014 the adoption was final, but that was when the problems began. Brenda says, “It was like hitting a whole lot of brick walls along the way.”

30 days after adoption, Hampton Social Services told them Ana’s adoption was considered a private one, and not a foster system adoption which would qualify Ana for valuable Medicaid benefits including health insurance. The Marks are retired, on fixed incomes, but they still have too much income to qualify for Medicaid.

No problem, the Marks thought they would simply add Ana to Lou’s City of Newport News retirement plan, but they found more brick walls there. Newport News passed an ordinance many years ago that reads, “After retirement, coverage levels may not be increased by a retiree.” Ana cannot be added to the plan.

Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey explained the reason for the change, “They are retirees, and they are not employees. We have changed our system, so you cannot add anybody (who are retirees), and we did this for costs because we are really trying to control the costs to you, the taxpayer.”

The Marks’ then went back to Hampton Social Services, and they were told the same thing as before. “We are over qualified, and no longer eligible for any coverage whatsoever,” said Brenda.

The Marks’ were forced to get an expensive private insurance plan for Ana. In August, more brick walls; Ana was diagnosed with Autism. Then In late October, the Optima premiums went up. Ana’s insurance is now $200 per month with a $600 deductible and $6,850 in out-of-pocket expenses until full benefits kick-in. “I think the system let Ana down,” said Brenda.

The sad realization came too late. Had they put Ana in foster care “pending adoption” instead of taking her home, she would not have lost her Medicaid health care benefits. “We will find a way to take care of her. We will give her coverage, but if it means that I take her to one doctor over a different doctor because he is going to charge me less? Yes,” Brenda explained.

10 On Your Side went unannounced to Social Services looking for Director Wanda Rogers. She wasn’t there, but replied by text soon after with, “I talked with Brenda Marks…I agreed to help her.” Then Rogers said Terri Phillips, a supervisor in the office, would be available to speak about the Marks’ situation, in Rogers’ absence.

Phillips’ official title is Continuous Quality Improvement and Training Manager. The goal in speaking to Ms. Phillips was to find out what can be done to help the Marks’ who in their heart did the right thing.

10 On Your Side asked Phillips if what happened to the Marks is fair. “I think some decisions were made by the Marks without maybe being fully informed of the ramifications,” she replied.

That is all well and good, but more troubling is that during every court appearance in Ana’s adoption, the Division of Social Services, which is part of Hampton Human Services, was there.

Phillips added, “Had I been the worker who was handling the case and the Medicaid at the time, and had they told me they were going to adopt her, we would have explored it more fully. I think they made decisions without having all the advice from an expert.”

Adding insult to injury and after they lost the Medicaid, the Social Services Intake Officer said this, “It is a shame you didn’t ask the court to let you get qualified as foster parents, and then you all foster her (in your house) because she would be able to keep her benefits.” That hit Brenda like a ton of bricks. Why wasn’t that said to the Marks’ by Social Services before the process began? Phillips said, “They made decisions without talking to us. Again, had I been the worker,” 10 On Your Side countered, “But they were talking to you…to your organization.” Phillips who was thoughtful in her answer said, “Maybe.”

During this meeting Brenda Marks handed Phillips her new Medicaid application, and because Ana is now diagnosed with Autism, that could be a positive consideration to be reinstated to Medicaid. Phillips confirms that, “It does weigh in that there is a new diagnosis that wasn’t there before, so that would probably increase the chance to get the waiver. We are going to do everything we can do to support this family.”

Phillips hopes to get an answer to the new appeal within 90 days, “It never dawned on me that doing what I believed to be in Ana’s best interest would someday cost her and now I’m trying to fix what not knowing does.”

In hindsight, the Marks’ say they should have asked the judge, “Your honor. Will you give us a temporary custody order to allow us to see if we qualify as foster parents and then foster her in our own home?”

“I think I am trying to plug the cracks as fast as I can to keep her from falling through. Children do not ask to be born, they have no say in who they are born to, and they are totally dependent on us to take care of them.”

If you are thinking about adoption, the organization Faces of Virginia Families, posted this list of 10 things every foster-to-adopt parent in Virginia should know.

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