One of the most overwhelming things we’ve had to deal with so far is learning about all of the resources available to us through the county and state. I feel like every time I speak with someone new I learn about a new program. Some benefits we qualify for, and some we don’t, but I wanted to provide a list of programs that have been helpful to us so far. This list is in no way exhaustive. I’m sure within a month I will find out about a new program, but these are the basic programs every parent of a child with special needs should know about. After all, your tax dollars go to pay for these programs, so if you need them, use them. This list is based off of Ohio programs, but most states have similar benefits, they just might be called something different.
The Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps (BCMH)
You know all of those out of pocket expenses insurance doesn’t cover that keep piling up with each day your little one is in the hospital, each doctor visit, or therapy session? You might be able to get help with those. Hopefully, if your child has been in the hospital, you already know about this program. I am so thankful we were told about BCMH within days of Hannah being born because we are still in the process of finalizing everything 6 months later. BCMH, which is through the Ohio Department of Health, basically works as a secondary insurance. There is a rather short application to fill out, and either you child’s primary care physician, or their primary physician while in the hospital should do the rest. The process takes anywhere from 8-12 weeks just for the state to receive the application and review it. I believe, for us, it was almost exactly 12 weeks after the form was submitted that we received our first approval letter. There are two separate parts to BCMH; the diagnostic portion, and the treatment portion. You will need approval letters for both in order for services to be paid. The diagnostic portion will help with any tests run to diagnose your child’s conditions, and the treatment portion will help with expenses for actual treatment of these conditions. It’s important to note that Down Syndrome is not considered an approved diagnosis, but any medical conditions related to DS may be covered. This program benefits a lot of families in Ohio, but it’s not well known. Almost every doctor I’ve taken Hannah to has done a double-take when I said she has BCMH. Most doctor offices don’t know how to handle it. This is where your county BCMH representative will be a huge resource.
There are income guidelines that you must meet in order to qualify for BCMH. However, they are fairly generous, which makes this a great resource for families not eligible for other benefits due to not meeting income requirements.
Social Security Disability
Odds are you have heard of social security, and probably know that you can also receive social security for your “disabled” child if you meet the income guidelines. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with it, I’ll give a brief description. Social Security Disability benefits are funds you can receive on behalf of your child. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a set dollar amount your income has to be below (there is a convoluted equation they use to determine eligibility), so your best bet is just to call your county social security office and ask them if you would be eligible. Down Syndrome is considered an automatic qualifier, meaning anyone with Trisomy 21 is automatically considered disabled. If your income is too high however, your child will not be eligible to receive monthly checks. Just because your child has an approved disability does not mean they will be eligible to receive monetary benefits. You will still want to apply either in person, or over the phone because you will receive a letter stating your child has an approved disability. We haven’t delved into the world of Medicaid yet, but I’ve been told this letter can be beneficial when it comes to Medicaid.
Early Intervention (Help Me Grow)
Early Intervention, or Help Me Grow as it used to be called, is an in-home therapy program. EI is a state run program that is county based. We were also made aware of EI during our initial stay in the hospital (our social worker was awesome). EI goes from birth to 3 years, so you can start using this program right away. The process from applying to starting therapy takes over a month (at least it did for us), so the sooner you can apply the better. Because it is a state run program, things have to be done in a certain order and worded in a certain way, so the process is a bit long and a lot of it seems pointless when your child is very, very young, but the benefits from it are well worth the hoops you have to jump through. EI offers developmental therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy at no cost to you, they don’t even bill insurance. Everything is done in the comfort of your own home, which is very nice and convenient. A developmental therapist and physical therapist will come out and evaluate your child’s need. If a need is found, they will set up an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) and then begin therapy. You are in control of this entire process; I cannot stress this enough! I have a pushover personality (hey, it’s the truth) and I have always been an “okay, whatever you think is best” kind of person. When Hannah was born, I knew that had to change. I have been very vocal with EI about what I want and what I expect from them. They have always been so helpful and accommodating; I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the people I have worked with. So, if you think your child has a need they are overlooking, you need to speak up. You have to be your child’s advocate. It is also important to note that you can receive therapy through EI as well as a private company. You are not limited to therapy strictly through one or the other. I cannot stress this enough: take advantage of EI.
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)
WIC is also a state-run, income-based program. The income guidelines are clearly posted here: https://www.odh.ohio.gov/odhprograms/ns/wicn/weligible.aspx. Along with being financially eligible, you must either be pregnant, have an infant under one, or a child over five. The process of applying and receiving WIC is fairly simple and straightforward, unlike some of the above mentioned programs. You can print the application and mail it in, or you can take it with you to your first visit. You can find your local WIC office here: https://www.odh.ohio.gov/-/media/ODH/ASSETS/Files/ns/wic-nutrition/wicclinicdirectory.pdf?la=en.
All you have to do is call your office, set up an appointment for you and your children, take the required documents, and you’re done! If your child is medically fragile, and is unable to go to the appointment, they will accommodate you. You may need to have a note from your child’s doctor explaining their absence. The appointment will take approximately an hour and a half. There are minimal forms to take in and fill out. All that’s required is income verification, child’s birth certificate, photo ID with correct address ( if address isn’t current you can take a piece of mail), and a prescription if your child needs a specific kind of formula. If you are approved, you will get your WIC card at the same visit. You will have to go back to the clinic every 3-6 months. Benefits from WIC can include formula and certain food items such as peanut butter, beans, milk, and produce. This program is definitely beneficial if your child requires special formula that is costly.
These are the four programs I am most familiar with. As I said, your tax dollars are going to these programs every time you get a paycheck, so don’t feel guilty for using them if you need them!