Some Boston Bombing Victims Can’t Cash Their Charity Checks Because They’ll Lose Their Health Care

First responders on the scene at last spring’s Boston Marathon bombing CREDIT: AP
First responders on the scene at last spring’s Boston Marathon bombing CREDIT: AP

After last spring’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, the hundreds of victims injured in the attacks received an outpouring of public support. Strangers donated thousands of dollars to online funds to help cover bombing victims’ medical costs, and many insurance providers waived the fees for their emergency care.

The generous compensation has allowed many survivors to achieve financial stability, and even go on to meet financial goals like buying a home. But that’s not true for all of them. As the Washington Post reports, some low-income survivors whose job prospects remain uncertain are wary to cash their checks because the additional income may actually undermine their ability to access health insurance.

Paul and J.P. Norden, two brothers who lost legs when the second bomb went off, are both still struggling to recover. And they haven’t cashed their $1.2 million checks from the One Fund charity — a fund set up specifically to aid bombing victims — because they’re currently dependent on Massachusetts’ public health insurance program for the poor. Although the charity donations are tax free, once they claim them, they may not qualify for that type of state assistance anymore.

That wouldn’t be an issue if they could access health care through an employer, or if the funds were enough to cover all of their expected medical costs. But the Norden brothers’ recovery process has been slow, and they’re not sure when they will be able to work again. They also worry that the high cost of prosthetics will quickly eat up the $1.2 million sum, leaving them with nothing.

“People will say stuff: ‘Oh, you guys got $1.2 million,’ “ J.P. Norden told the Washington Post from his hospital bed, recovering from his most recent surgery. “Did we? Because I know I’ve got to buy a leg for the rest of my life. I can’t go out and buy a house.”

“The amputees got a check they can’t cash, if you think about it,” another bombing survivor, who received a $735,000 check for bad burns that he sustained in the attacks, noted to the Washington Post. That’s because the cost of treating amputations stretches out over a lifetime. It’s not a one-time medical cost that can be paid for with a lump sum.

Prosthetics can cost up to $45,000 apiece for adults, and they need to be replaced every few years. In addition to the limbs themselves, ongoing rehabilitative treatment also racks up costs. Doctors and prosthetists told the Washington Post that the lifetime cost of a new limb could easily exceed the $1.2 million that the Norden brothers each received.

At the end of this year, the Nordens will need to leave their public health insurance plans and begin buying insurance on their own. They’ll be able to purchase plans in Obamacare’s new state-level marketplaces — but, just as their charity checks may disqualify them from accessing Medicaid, they’ll also likely be barred from receiving federal subsidies to help make those plans cheaper.

The Nordens say they will deal with that when the time comes. For now, they’re simply focused on rehabilitation. One of the brothers is meeting with financial advisers to decide how to invest his money, but says they’re giving him conflicting advice. “Who do you trust?… It’s like we have money, but we don’t have money,” their mother, Liz Norden, explained.

Insurance coverage for prosthetic costs currently varies widely. Fortunately for the Norden family, Massachusetts is one of the 20 states that have passed fair insurance laws for amputees. That means insurance providers are required to cover a certain level of care for amputees, and typically pay for up to 80 percent of prosthetic care.