Saturday, May 10, 2008

Weekend Smorgasboard

Thank the Maker it's the weekend. Come Wednesday morning I have no idea how I'm going to make it through the rest of the week, but somehow, I do. We do.

A lot of folks are stressed our right now, with good reasons. Where to start? The state of the economy is hitting everyone now, whether working for corporations with tanking profits, social service non-profits losing critical public funding or simply figuring out how to feed a family in light of soaring gas, food and healthcare costs.

Right now I'm fighting what I suspect will be a losing battle with the medical group that did my breast biopsy. I received a $200 copay bill which was a surprise since I had done my due diligence (so I thought) and checked my insurance benefits on the much-ballyhooed "member services website" precisely so I wouldn't get this kind of surprise. The ensuing conversation I had with a representative from my insurance company entered the realm of the surreal, unpacked its suitcase and settled in for a long visit.

In a nutshell, I have this $200 copay because the procedure was coded as being performed in a hospital. Now, I don't know the exact definition of a hospital and maybe this is where my problem lies, but I lived in San Francisco for about ten years and feel like I have a good grasp of the hospitals contained in those seven square miles. I'm also very confident that people in the throes of a heart attack are not whisked off by ambulance to the Breast Health Center.

The rep said, "but they coded it like it was in a hospital" and further explained that had the procedure been performed in a doctor's office, it would have different copay. What would have been different about this procedure had it been performed in a doctor's office? Would the magazine selection in the waiting room not contain recent Oprahs but only tattered Good Housekeeping? Would I not receive any Novacain shots? Perhaps I would not have been sent off with my little goody bag of bandages , bottled water and granola bars?

Her answer: it would be coded differently. I gave up on this line of questioning.

I'm trying to reach the medical group. You're no doubt surprised to hear that I've never been able to reach a live person, messages left in their general voicemail box are unreturned, and a promising email with a real person's extension on it did not work, either. I'm still trying.

$200 won't break me but it stings, especially since like many people, I'm spending a lot more on everything else. But at core what sucks about this is I'm a fully insured person. I have "good" insurance, for which my employer and me together pay $400 a month. Such is the state of healthcare. I'm lucky--I'm not even sick! Can you imagine trying to wend your way through this maze when ill and scared?

Reminded me of Michael Moore in Sicko wandering through a British National Health Services hospital, trying to find the billing office, not believing all the doctors, nurses and patients smilingly explain to him, no one pays for anything, and only uncovering the cashier who did not collect money, but reimbursed patients for travel costs to get their medical care.

We're so, so far behind where we need to be.

Sorry to be such a bummer, reader. Since it's important not to get dragged down to the point of paralysis, I offer you this truly uplifting story about a Bay Area doctor. And as always, Pot Psychology can make you laugh, though always NSFW! My gift to you, happy weekend.

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