New health care law a godsend for Texas lawyer, family

McClatchy NewspapersApril 25, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Attorney Andrew Griffin doesn't share the outrage that many of his fellow Texans feel over the Obama administration's new health care law.

Instead, he thinks of his epileptic son Alec, 12, as almost a poster child for the new law and thinks that his family will benefit because it prohibits insurers from denying coverage of a pre-existing condition.

Two years ago, Griffin, a new law school grad, discovered that he made too much money at the Fort Worth law firm he'd just joined to qualify for his son's care under the Texas Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP.)

Alec's seizures, which had begun in 2003 but all but disappeared, had become constant, but more than 60 insurers rejected Griffin's applications for coverage. Turning to his wife, he proposed that they divorce so she and their two children could qualify for federal assistance.

"We'd do whatever it takes for him," said Griffin.

His boss, J. Steven King, was horrified.

"I said I would not let that happen," said King, who runs a family law practice in Fort Worth. He stepped in and proposed instead to cap Griffin's salary at $48,000, the limit for a family of four to quality for CHIP.

"I felt horrible, like I was taking advantage of him," King said.

Griffin had to make sure that he didn't have any assets — a leased car passed muster, but not one he owned, and a house had to be rented — but that way Alec could get the coverage and the surgery he needed.

When the new law kicks in three months from now, however, Griffin looks forward to getting out from under CHIP — and nearly doubling his salary.

The health care law requires insurance companies to accept all applicants, regardless of pre-existing conditions, starting in 2014. Between now and then, the federal government will fund high-risk insurance pools in the states.

"Health insurance reform is designed to prevent any child from being denied coverage because he or she has a pre-existing condition," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius before Congress approved it.

For 12-year-old Alec Griffin, the new law and new coverage won't impact his care. But they'll have an impact on his family.

"Under the restrictions, you can't accumulate wealth," said Andrew Griffin. With a guarantee of insurance, the lawyer thinks that his family can start saving for a down payment for a home and ultimately provide Alec with "a better quality of life."

According to his neurologist, Dr. Saleem Malik, Alec is "markedly improved" after surgery in January to control his seizures.

"His seizures have always been difficult to control," said Malik, who spoke with McClatchy with the permission of the Griffin family. Instead of two to three weekly seizures, Malik said, they're now infrequent.

Alec Griffin's epilepsy was triggered in 2003 by a viral infection that led to encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, Malik said. As the boy's seizures grew worse, starting in 2008, Malik recommended major surgery.

The six-hour operation, a left anterior temporal lobectomy on the part of the brain that controls speech and memory, was performed by a team of 15 to 20 medical personnel at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth.

Alec's speech has improved, said Malik, who's been the child's physician since the boy was six, and he hopes the youngster, who now studies at home, can return to school in a few months.

As for future surgery, said Malik, "I hope this is it." The family, said the doctor, "has been through a lot."

Andrew Griffin is upbeat these days — about Alec and about the Obama health care plan, which, he jokes, makes him the only person in the Fort Worth area, including in his own family, who supports it.

"I'm very optimistic," said Griffin. "This opens up avenues that were not available to me."

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