Amputees Organize

Paul Bass PhotoBrenda Novak and Herb Kolodny were lucky: They got insurance coverage for their new limbs. Now they’re working on ensuring that other people who lose arms and legs have the same opportunity to restart their lives in full rather than be confined to wheelchairs.

Kolodny and Novak recently started a group called the Connecticut Amputee Network (CAN), through which they’re lobbying state legislators to pass a bill this coming session to require “insurance parity for prosthetic devices,” i.e., artificial arms and legs.

Twenty other states, including the rest of New England, already have such laws. But here in Connecticut some insurance companies continue to deny coverage for prosthetic limbs, arguing they’re not “medically necessary” since people can get around in a wheelchair without them.

“Arms and legs are not luxuries,” said Novak, who lost a leg in 2008 while working in the West African country of Mali when a water tower collapsed on her. She and Kolodny Tuesday described their personal journeys through amputation as well as the work of their new group on an episode of WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

Novak and Kolodny, who lost a leg to cancer, met while rock climbing at Gaylord Hospital, one of six places in Connecticut offering support groups for some of the 20,000 people in the state who have lost limbs.

It can cost between $30,000 and $60,000 to get a prosthetic leg. CAN is making three central arguments to legislators in support of an insurance parity bill:

• It saves money in the end, because people confined to wheelchairs are more likely to develop heart problems, grow obese, and develop depression than are people who are mobile on artificial legs. Those confined to wheelchairs therefore require more costly care.

• Disability rights are civil rights. Failure to cover limb replacement is a form of discrimination.

• “Common sense”: Replacing a missing limb is a “health benefit” just like inserting a stent in a heart or repairing a broken shoulder.

CAN has a Facebook page and has been assembling an email list. After pushing for the state law on prosthetic limbs this session, Kolodny and Novak hope to expand the group’s mission to advocacy and education, with hopes of becoming a clearinghouse for information on limb loss. Find out more about CAN here at the group’s website.

Click on or download the above audio file or Facebook Live video for the full episode of WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program with Connecticut Amputee Network’s Brenda Novak and Herb Kolodny.

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