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Octuplets could be costly for taxpayers

As a single parent with no income, Nadya Suleman could receive thousands of dollars a month in government assistance. And the Medi-Cal bill for her newborns is mounting.

February 11, 2009|Kimi Yoshino and Jessica Garrison

Nadya Suleman has 14 children, including newborn octuplets. She has no job, no income and owes $50,000 in student loans.

Still, the 33-year-old Whittier woman said she's confident that she can afford to raise her huge family, insisting she can do it without welfare. In an interview Tuesday with NBC, she said she could use student loans to make ends meet until she finishes graduate school and gets a job.

But Suleman faces what are likely to be millions of dollars in medical bills alone, and it's increasingly likely that taxpayers will foot many of those bills.

Her family is eligible for large sums of public assistance money. Even before she gave birth to the octuplets Jan. 26, Suleman was receiving $490 in monthly food stamps, and three of her children were receiving federal supplemental security income because they are disabled.

Lowell Kepke, a spokesman for the San Francisco office of the Social Security Administration, said that a single parent with no income qualifies for up to $793 a month for each child with a physical or mental condition that results in "marked or severe functional limitations." That money is used for support and maintenance of the family, and Suleman would not be required to specifically account for how it is spent.

If Suleman's disabled children received the maximum payment, she would get nearly $2,900 a month in state and federal assistance, including the food stamps.

Suleman's octuplets qualify for Medi-Cal, California's healthcare program for the poor. Three sources told The Times that Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower had requested reimbursement for care of the eight premature infants.

Reimbursement rates for the octuplets were not immediately available. However, 2007 records show that Southern California hospitals received an average of $1,198 per day, per patient.

Tony Cava, a spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services, said that for a baby in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, that amount would probably increase.

Using the 2007 average as a low estimate, Kaiser would be eligible for a combined $9,584 per day in Medi-Cal reimbursement. The babies, who are 16 days old, have already racked up a conservative $153,344 in Medi-Cal costs, not including their delivery. Kaiser doctors have said they will remain hospitalized for seven to 12 weeks. If they stay for seven weeks, the cost would be $469,616. If they stay 12 weeks, the cost would be $805,056.

Kaiser gathered 46 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals together to perform the delivery. It's unclear how much that cost and who will pay.

Suleman told NBC that she planned to go back to Cal State Fullerton, where she is earning a master's degree in counseling. Once she receives the degree, she said, she will get a job and be able to financially support the children.

Suleman used to work as a psychiatric technician at Metropolitan State Hospital, where she suffered an injury in 1999. During a riot involving 20 people, a patient overturned a heavy wooden desk on her back. After the incident, Suleman only briefly returned to work and she continued to experience ongoing back problems from a herniated disc.

Between 2000 and 2008, she received $169,353 in temporary disability payments, a workers' compensation spokeswoman said.

Her workers' compensation file, obtained by The Times, indicates that a doctor hired by the state to evaluate her believes she is now eligible for permanent disability. The state stopped making temporary disability payments Aug. 28. But the records show that she would receive payment for permanent disability. State officials said no determination has been made yet about the amount or duration of her payments.

Suleman insisted to NBC's Ann Curry in an interview taped Tuesday that she's not seeking a public handout.

"I'm not living off any taxpayer money," she said. "If I am, if it's food stamps, it's a temporary resource. And I was so reluctant. I very much so look forward to the day when I am not getting any kind of help with food stamps, which I believe will end when I graduate in about a year or year and a half."

Suleman also said she hopes that two of her children will soon no longer be disabled.

She said she has $50,000 in student loans that she will eventually have to repay.

Suleman also bristled at suggestions made by some commentators that she was being irresponsible for having so many children with no income or partner to help raise them.

"No. I am not being selfish. . . . If I were just sitting down watching TV and not being as determined as I am to succeed and provide a better future for my children, I believe that would be considered to a certain degree selfish," she said.

Suleman said she was married once. But the relationship ended when she realized "that I wasn't in love at all with him. I was in love with having children."

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