I was prepared for an easy, relaxing PET-CT this morning: after all, it’s my fifth, and I just had one two very short months ago. What I got was one of my worst experiences yet at a doctor’s office. And it wasn’t the fault of nausea from fasting or a vagal response from putting in the I.V., which I’ve had unpleasant experiences with before, but–insurance. Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.
So I get to my appointment and the front desk person, who I’ve never seen before, knows me. Already I can tell there is a problem. He puts on his best “bad news” face and proceeds to tell me that I don’t have health insurance, much in the same way that he might tell me my fly is unzipped. Never mind that telling an (unemployed) cancer patient that she doesn’t have health insurance is like the worst thing in the world (besides getting diagnosed). “We can go ahead with the scan, but we’re required to tell you that you might be responsible for the full amount.”
I’ve actually heard this several times over the last few weeks (except they usually say “your health insurance has been terminated” which sounds a lot worse) since I had the misfortune of turning 26, whereby falling into a one-month “grace period” with my prior insurance policy through my dad. I am covered, it just depends on which phone number you call and which person you talk to. I am sure the insurance company makes it intentionally complicated so they don’t actually have to cover people during their grace period. I know, because it has taken me, my dad, my mom, and the insurance woman at my oncologist’s office three weeks to work it all out. My parents deserve most of the credit–they agreed to take this on because my emotional stability regarding billing and insurance matters is very low, as you will soon see.
So, because I’ve heard this before, and because we supposedly already worked it out through my oncologist’s office, I say I want to go ahead with the scan because i’m already there and i’m definitely covered. I sit down and start filling out the paperwork. (Is there any chance you could possibly be pregnant? No. In the last five minutes since you started filling out this form, could you have become pregnant? No. Are you positive you’re not pregnant? YES.) I can hear the front desk guy talking about me on the phone with their insurance woman. He calls me over and she proceeds to tell me over and over again that there is no way I have insurance coverage and that she has it IN WRITING that my coverage has been terminated, and if I go ahead with this scan, I will have to pay for it. Basically, she told me that I’m screwed.
What did I do? I started crying. And I ran outside to call my mommy, tears streaming down my cheeks.
The problem just seemed insurmountable. I was already there at the office, fasting for over 12 hours, and I needed to somehow get the insurance woman on the phone with the one person at the insurance company who says i’m covered (reachable only via a mysterious 1-800 number that isn’t posted on the card), armed with only a cell phone. But I wasn’t sure that was possible because I was starting to believe I wasn’t covered.
My mom talks to the front desk guy on my cell phone and I go back to filling out my papers. He calls me back over to talk to the insurance woman on the phone and she apologizes and says i’m covered after all and I go back to sniffling in the waiting room, feeling very young because I had to call my mommy and because i’m the youngest person in the waiting room by at least 25 years. And I have to answer the question one more time: no I am not pregnant.
I am now left feeling let down. Not taken care of. Not confident that the health care system can fix me before it makes things worse for me. Tired. Sad.
They have the form with my diagnosis sitting right in front of them, they can see that i’m too young to be dealing with all this cancer bullshit, and yet they choose to treat me like a walking checkbook first, and a patient second anyway. I know that they’re just trying to make sure they get paid. But isn’t there a way to do it that doesn’t involve harassing the patient who has cancer and hasn’t eaten in 12 hours in the middle of a very small waiting room? Wasn’t that the purpose of spending the last three weeks making sure that my insurance covered the scan before scheduling it? It makes me wonder if health care is here to heal people, or just to make money. It’s hard to tell sometimes.