Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, holes in the health insurance system left people at risk – especially young adults and people with pre-existing health conditions. When the flawed system failed Rose Mitchell-Tenerowicz, 32, of Albany, Whitney Young Health was there to help her and her unborn child. This is their story.
“In 2009, I went to Whitney Young Health as an uninsured person with an unexpected, but very welcome, pregnancy. I had recently graduated from college, was looking for full-time employment, and had just applied for Healthy New York, which was a subsidized health insurance program in NYS before the Affordable Care Act. I applied directly to an HMO and sent the first month's premium in with my application, as someone there had advised me to do to speed up the process.
A few weeks later, my check had been cashed, but I hadn't heard anything on the status of my application. I also had just realized I was pregnant. I called the HMO to discuss the maternity care that would be available under my policy and find a provider within their network. They asked me my due date, I had told them I just found out I was pregnant, and put me on hold. The customer service representative I was speaking with got back on the phone and explained that based on my due date, they were treating my pregnancy as a pre-existing condition and wouldn't cover any related healthcare costs. I was welcome to join the program for unrelated care, though. I was livid and cancelled my application, which still hadn't been officially approved, even though they had cashed my check. It took over 4 months to get my $400 back.
I did some Google searching and found the Cohoes MOMS program, which referred me to Whitney Young Health. I went in for a morning of appointments. First I met with a social worker who got me signed up for PCAP, a Medicaid program for pregnant women, then I had my teeth cleaned, and then I had a prenatal appointment with a midwife. I decided to stay at Whitney Young Health for my prenatal care because they had midwives on staff who would be at my birth, and that was something that was really important to me. I got wonderful prenatal care, including dental visits and nutrition consultations. My son was born at St. Peter's in August, 2009 with the help of midwife Barbara Fleck and Dr. Virginia Giuliano.
I am no longer a patient of Whitney Young's, as I've followed the midwives to different practices, and I now have private insurance through my husband's employer. I did continue to get dental care there for a few years, before we got the insurance we have now, because they were a provider with Family Health Plus, another pre-ACA subsidized healthcare plan we had for several years. I was always satisfied with the dental care there, and appreciated the friendly staff and the sliding scale fee structure.”
Rose with her sons, Rowan and Caleb
Q. Has your life changed since you started coming to Whitney Young Health?
A. “My experience at Whitney Young Health, as well as being pregnant and preparing for childbirth, sparked the urge in me to become a doula. I took my first doula training in 2010 and have been working as a birth and postpartum doula ever since. I am now certified through Doula Trainings International. I am a member of the Doula Network of the Capital Region and I also work at the Family Life Center. In addition to my work with my private clients, I am working with BirthNet, a local nonprofit, to expand our programing to tackle the local issues of maternal and infant mortality, and preterm and low birth weight births. Albany County's maternal mortality rate is double the state wide rate. The state wide infant mortality rate is 5 out of 1,000 births. Albany County's infant mortality rate is 8.9 out of 1,000 births, and in the zip-code 12202, one of the most disenfranchised in the state, the rate is 23.3 out of 1,000 (Source). BirthNet is developing a Community Doula Program that will provide trainings and professional support to community members who wish to become doulas, and we will have a similar program for Childbirth Educators. Evidence shows that the continuous support offered by a trained doula can help reduce medical interventions and cesarean deliveries, and improve families' satisfaction with their birth experience. As a mother and a doula myself, I know first-hand how an empowered birth experience can positively impact the postpartum experience, while setting the course for an empowered parenting journey. “
Q. Would you advocate for the services provided at Whitney Young?
A. I would very much advocate for the services offered by Whitney Young Health, and I envision opportunities for BirthNet and Whitney Young Health to come together in our shared effort to improve access and care for families in Albany's most marginalized communities. At this moment in history, there is so much uncertainty about the future of health insurance and access to care in our country. Whitney Young Health was able to deliver quality service before the Affordable Care Act, and I am confident they will be able to do that still, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed. I just hope it doesn't come to that.
Whitney Young Health is proud to say that we were there for Rose in her time of need. Our goal is to help those without insurance still receive medical, dental and behavioral health services and eventually get them and their loved ones on an insurance plan that is affordable and works for them. We hope Rose’s powerful story helps everyone realize the importance of the Affordable Care Act and without it, leaves people without the healthcare they need to be healthy and happy members of society.