Three-quarters of the way into her junior year, 21-year-old Audrey Winkelsas has found her educational opportunities interrupted.
Winkelsas has spinal muscular atrophy, and since moving to south Florida to attend the University of Miami, she has had 24-hour Medicaid-funded care to provide her with assistance as she pursues her education in spite of her disability.
Now that she is 21, Medicaid has re-evaluated Winkelsas’s need for care – allowing her only three one-hour visits per day, none of which can be consecutive. This is nowhere near sufficient for a person with Winkelsas’s physical disability attending college away from home. She needs more help. And we need to make sure she gets it.
Winkelsas and her family cannot afford to pay for the remaining 21 hours of care per day. Her mother, who is currently in Miami to care for her daughter, cannot remain here because she must help her husband with their small business in order to earn a livelihood.
Admirably, Winkelsas wants to use her biochemistry degree to conduct medical research and find the cure for her condition. Beyond that, she is now advocating for policy change with a petition on Change.org to remedy her situation.
A campaign called 21 Disabled seeks to have Medicaid maintain medical services for disabled young adults when they turn 21. In the long-term, our legislators should revisit the law that revokes essential care at age 21. Such decisions should be made more efficiently on a case-by-case basis, and perhaps the reconsideration should come at a later age that isn’t such a pivotal time in a typical college student’s life.
These types of legislative changes take time, and Winkelsas has no time to lose. So in the meantime, we urge the UM community to show its support by signing the Change.org petition. We urge the university administration to use its prestige for the benefit of this student and others in her position in the future. And we urge Florida Medicaid to return Winkelsas’s access to 24-hour care.
President Donna E. Shalala is a leading healthcare expert with enough pull to bring the Dalai Lama and Hillary Clinton to campus. On this matter so connected to her own sphere of influence, we’d hope that Shalala is able to help make a difference.
UM should send a letter from the Office of the President to the Florida Department of Children and Families or Gov. Rick Scott so that the state intervenes.
And given that the university isn’t allowed to comment on personal health matters, for all we know, UM might already have done this. Still, we’d like to stress the urgency of the matter.
In granting Winkelsas sustained healthcare services, the state of Florida would not only be helping to change the life of one student, but also showing its support for that one student who wants to change the lives of many.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.