Casey Smitherman, superintendent of Elwood Community Schools in Indiana, was charged January 15 with insurance fraud, identity deception and official misconduct after attempting to help a sick student.
The student was uninsured.
Smitherman, who is out on bail and is entering a diversion program to avoid jail time, said she went to the home of a student who missed class and noticed symptoms of strep throat. After a clinic refused to treat the uninsured child, she went to another. This time, she said the student was her son. She got the student’s prescription filled under her son’s name.
“I knew he did not have insurance and I wanted to do all I could to help him get well,” Smitherman said in a statement. “I know this action was wrong. In the moment, my only concern was for this child’s health.”
Smitherman did not immediately return Grit Post’s request for further comment.
Smitherman has the support of her school board, with the board’s president Brent Kane characterizing her actions as “an unfortunate mistake” made out of concern for the welfare of a student.
If the student had health coverage, though, no deception would’ve been needed.
Indiana has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation, according to a new report from Georgetown University. In 2017, 106,000 Indiana children were uninsured. The study listed Indiana as one of 11 states with childhood uninsured rates significantly higher than the national average.
“That is a disturbing reality that we’ve got to come to terms with,” said Covering Kids & Families of Indiana executive director Susan Jo Thomas. “Because the long-term effects are dismal.”
A study published in Child Trends found that the impact of insurance on children’s health begins prenatally and extends long into adulthood. Specifically, insured children had a lower rate of obesity, and those insured before birth showed fewer preventable hospitalizations and fewer hospitalizations related to endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases, as well as immune system disorders.
And still, in 2017 the number of uninsured children nearly hit 4 million. And as they age into adults, healthcare costs will disproportionately burden them.
“The nation is going backwards on insuring kids and it is likely to get worse,” said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families and co-author of the Georgetown study.
Alker blamed, in part, the national conversation about repealing the Affordable Care Act.
At least for one student in Indiana, a school administrator was willing to risk jail to provide the insurance coverage that government was unwilling to.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.