“I help people access care and health insurance, and assist them in paying their bills if they get them,” said Packard…
Health Connections at Gifford
Health Connections Specialist Michele Packard works in Patient Financial Services at Gifford Medical Center. During a recent interview she’s initially hesitant to talk about her role – but brightens as she shares the story behind the eclectic mix of artwork that adorns her office. She points out a colorful tapestry, a painting, and a floral sculpture made of tiny seashells – all handmade thank-you gifts from Gifford patients she has worked with over the years.
“I help people access care and health insurance, and assist them in paying their bills if they get them,” said Packard, who began at Gifford as a candy striper in the 1970s, continued to volunteer in the ’80s, and became staff in the ’90s. “If someone is in distress, they can come to me and I help them find the path and negotiate it. I advocate for them. That’s it.”
While Packard may downplay her role, providers and colleagues like Certified Diabetes Educator Jennifer Stratton, RD, consider her a vital resource as they work together to ensure continuity of care for Gifford patients.
“She is my speed dial, and I talk to her just about every day,” said Stratton. “Today is a prime example. I have a patient coming in who is unable to afford his medications.”Jennifer Stratton, RD
Stratton’s patient, 77-year-old Bob*, was recently discharged from the hospital and started on insulin. Though he has Medicare Part D, Bob has “major concerns” he will not be able to afford the lifesaving diabetes drug. The cost of insulin has skyrocketed in the United States in the last decade.
Packard subsequently met with Bob and is helping him apply for VPharm, the state prescription program for Vermonters age 65 and older and for those of all ages who have a disability. VPharm helps participants pay their monthly Part D premium and significantly lowers many prescription drug copays.
“Michele and I tag team to determine what we can do,” Stratton said. “She is a huge resource for me any time I have an insurance question.”
Another of Packard’s clients is 31-year-old Tammy*. She first met with Packard in 2015 as she was about to age out of her parents’ health insurance policy and needed to line up coverage. Packard helped Tammy navigate Vermont Health Connect to find the right plan for her – and has continued to advocate for her through life events, including marriage, two pregnancies, and changing healthcare needs.
“I haven’t been able to deal with Vermont Health Connect,” said Tammy, referring to challenges she has faced trying to navigate the system on her own. “Michele made that all happen for us for sure.”
Packard also advocated for Tammy and her husband after they incurred significant medical debt, working to have it forgiven after the couple had “paid on it for a long time,” shared the mother of two. And Tammy recently sought Packard’s help again to resolve a payment dispute with MVP Health Care.
“MVP told me I wasn’t paying my bills,” said Tammy. “They were dropping me because they said I wasn’t paying, but I was. Vermont Health Connect was cashing my checks. Michele sent them copies of the checks.”
In addition to helping patients navigate insurance and healthcare costs, Packard helps them connect the dots as they manage their care needs.
“She’s been amazing,” said Stratton. “When people come into her office, if she sees that they don’t have a full understanding of their diabetes, for example, she’ll loop me in. She really looks at a patient as a whole person – and what really needs to happen for them to have good care.”
For her part, Packard said, “It’s all about access to health care. How do you make it accessible and affordable for people who don’t have insurance? I go home at night and feel like I’ve helped somebody.”
*Patient names have been changed to respect privacy, protect identity, and assure confidentiality.