Posted 4 months ago on March 6, 2014, 4:34 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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William Rivers Pitt | Worse Than the Mob: The Insurance Industry Is Organized Crime
Thursday, 06 March 2014 09:04
By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed
We got accountants playin' God
and countin' out the pills
Yeah, I know, that sucks - that your HMO
Ain't doin' what you thought it would do
But everybody's gotta die sometime...
- Steve Earle
Nothing so thoroughly dominated the American political landscape over the last year more than the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known now as "Obamacare." The GOP's eternal refrain that "Government is the problem" was used as a battering ram against the law, and House Republicans have voted to repeal or denude it exactly fifty times as of today. Ted Cruz and his cohort of wreckers shut down the government over it, and the Tea Party base broke out their Sharpies to make gloriously stupid protest signs that read "Government Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare."
Amusing as all this was, the dark underbelly of it all is dangerously wrong. Yes, the ACA exchange website rollout was a train wreck, and yes, a small segment of the population has had problems with the new law. This is not in dispute. Websites can be fixed, however, and problems can be solved. None of this holds a candle to the awesome misery and financial pain inflicted upon the populace by the holy and sainted world of private business, known in this instance as the insurance industry.
My own saga with these broad-daylight thieves began in late summer, when I moved my family to New Hampshire. We were living in Boston before the move, and had health insurance through my wife's employer. My wife has Multiple Sclerosis, and one of the big reasons we felt comfortable about moving was that, if she changed jobs after the move, she could not be denied health insurance due to her pre-existing condition, thanks to the ACA.
We made the move, and my wife's employer transferred her to their location in Concord, more than an hour's drive away from our new home. She worked full-time to keep the health insurance, but after three months of ten-hour days combined with almost three hours on the road getting to and from work, it became clear that the situation was untenable. She was exhausted all the time - fatigue is the #1 danger zone for people with MS; it leaves you wide open for an attack - and worse, she felt like she was missing out on raising our daughter because she was gone more than thirteen hours a day.
On top of that, winter was coming, and the last thing she wanted to deal with was driving one-lane roads at night in a snowstorm, which would have happened more than a dozen times given the severity of this winter. After careful consideration, she asked her employer to transfer her to a location only 20 minutes away from home. The price of that transfer: going from full-time to part-time, and losing our insurance.
We looked into the insurance available through my employer, but came to the conclusion - based on the information provided on the Healthcare.gov website - that going through the exchange was our best option. So we went to the website, and shopped for new insurance. The website was klunky, to be sure, but when I reached a point where it didn't seem to be making sense any more, I called the 800-number provided and spent a couple of hours talking to a tremendously nice woman with a near-parody Wisconsin accent - "Ooh yah, dearie me" - who was amazingly helpful, and got me the rest of the way through the process. Given the fact of my wife's MS, our process was particularly complicated, and this person did everything necessary to make sure we were taken care of.
That's when my dealings with the government ended, and my dealings with the insurance industry began, and it has been downhill at speed ever since.
There is exactly one insurance company in New Hampshire peddling plans through the ACA: Anthem BlueCross BlueShield. After completing the enrollment process through the exchange, the next step was to deal directly with Anthem, which quickly came to be about as fruitful as trying to batter down a brick wall with my daughter's teething ring. First it was two weeks of phone calls, involving serial hours listening to on-hold music that could easily have come straight out of a bad porn movie soundtrack, just to establish that Anthem actually recognized Multiple Sclerosis as a real disease. Then it was another week of porn-flick hold-music to get a straight answer on the location and availability of MS doctors that were "in the network," and thus covered.
Every phone call yielded a different set of answers, a different phone number to call, which invariably led nowhere. The calls that finally yielded answers and useful information felt like luck-of-the-draw; we either got someone on the line who actually felt like working that day, or were simply fortunate that the person we spoke to actually picked the correct answer off their sheet of go-away pat responses. In the end, all of this took so long that we wound up shelling out nearly a thousand dollars to get COBRA coverage from my wife's employer, just to make sure we had something over our heads. Finally, after almost a month of nonsense, we managed to get everything squared away, I cut Anthem a check, and we received insurance cards in the mail.
All was quiet for a while, until the beginning of last week, when my wife's MS medication began to run low. Previously, and with no hassles, the process to acquire a refill for her prescription was to call the company that makes her medicine about a week before it ran out, place an order for a refill, and it would be delivered two days later. When we called the drug company at the beginning of last week, however, we hit a great big pothole: they could not do the refill until our new insurance company approved it.
My wife contacted Anthem a month ago to clear the way for this approval process. They required a statement from her neurologist in order for the prescription to be approved. That statement was acquired, and sent to Anthem, a month ago. According to every conversation we had with Anthem this week, however, the statement from her neurologist did not exist, and the process had to begin again from scratch.
And so it was phone calls to Anthem, and more phone calls, and hold music - between the two of us, my wife and I have logged enough hours on hold to fly to Neptune and back - and one answer with one phone call once we finally got someone on the line, another answer with another phone call once we finally got someone on the line, and all the while my wife's stock of MS medicine dwindled, and dwindled, and dwindled.
Last Wednesday, fearing the worst, my wife began rationing her medicine: one dose a day instead of two. We made this very clear to the people at Anthem - I HAVE MS AND AM ALMOST OUT OF MEDICINE - but still, it was "Call this number" that went nowhere, "Call that number" that went nowhere, one answer, and then another, no two ever the same, the awful infinity of hold music, and then oops, we accidentally inverted the numbers on your prescription, we have to start over again, we will call you back, and then silence, and silence, and silence.
For those not in the know, Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease that causes the body's own immune system to attack the brain. Think of the neurons in your brain as if they were stereo cables: copper wiring encased in a rubber sheath. With MS, the immune system chews through that rubber sheath and attacks the wiring, destroying it. The damage done is irreversible, and in the worst case can cause paralysis, blindness, weakness, loss of motor function in arms and legs, an inability to swallow, and permanent disabling pain. It is a filthy, wretched disease that does not even have the common decency to kill you after it is done torturing you; it leaves that to the other diseases that come galloping through the door after your body has been destroyed. The only thing keeping the beast at bay is my wife's medication. When she has it, she is fine and strong, able to work and hold her child, able to live a normal life. When she does not have it, she is hedging Hell.