Other than my ongoing battle with mental illness, I have been relatively healthy my entire life. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. Prior to the last couple years, other than mental health doctors, I rarely went to the doctors at all beyond basic check ups. Other than medications for my mental illness, I have rarely relied on any medication stronger than acetaminophen or an antacid, and only then if absolutely necessary. Due to this fact, I had little experience with battling my insurance company for most of my life. These last two years, however, have been a real eye opener.
I have struggled with severe depression and anxiety my entire life. For years, I was labelled “treatment resistant” because no medication I took ever seemed to work. A couple years ago, my meds doctor at my mental health clinic sent me for a genetic test to help determine what prescriptions might work better for me based on my genetic make up.
The test came back with an unexpected result. I had a genetic mutation that rendered my liver incapable of metabolizing folic acid in any usable amount. Broken down folic acid, called l-methylfolate, is used by the neurotransmitters in the brain to help moderate moods. Because my own body could not metabolize folic acid into l-methylfolate in any usable amount, the neurotransmitters in my brain had been literally starving for what they needed for the majority of my life.
It was a fairly easy fix. There’s a pill on the market of broken down folic acid. It is, on average, under $200 a month.
It is something my body cannot make on its own and my brain needed to function properly. Yet my insurance company fought me on it for almost 9 months. In the meantime, my doctor had to prescribe me a collection of high dose antidepressants, anti-anxiety and sleep aids in hopes that together they might even slightly touch my mental illness. I had a revolving combination of medications, anywhere from four to six prescribed at a time, with the dosages being steadily increased.
The cash price of the one anti-depressant alone that I took during that time runs on average $250-$300 per month. The one anti-anxiety medication I took runs between $45-$85 per month. The one sleep aid ran around $20 a month. Other medications we tried ran between $10-20 apiece. Altogether, I was taking between $450-$500 a month worth of medications that were barely able to do anything for me because my insurance company did not want to pay less than $200 a month for the medication I truly needed.
After almost 9 months of fighting and multiple appeals and fair hearings, I finally got my prescription approved. These days, I am taking my l-methylfolate, along with one moderate but inexpensive antidepressant and a natural sleep aid. Altogether, the cost is still under $200 a month. I honestly cannot fathom why the insurance company would have opted for 9 months to pay over double that amount on a less effective treatment instead of just approving what my doctor had initially prescribed me, what I truly needed.
I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident but over the past couple years, I have had multiple run ins with my insurance company in regards to my treatment. Though relatively healthy for the majority of my life, these last two years have been plagued with multiple health issues, issues my insurance company has chosen to fight me on, as well.
Two years ago, I was rushed to the emergency room in severe pain. It turned out that a large cyst had grown on my ovary. Within the cyst, a mass of tissue had begun to grow, as well. Together, they had put increasing pressure and weight on my ovary, contorting it and damaging not only the ovary itself but also on the veins around it. The ovary was damaged beyond repair. There was a concern that the mass within the cyst might be cancerous. Rather than doing a biopsy then surgery that would prolong my suffering, my doctor opted to remove the ovary first then biopsy the mass on it afterwards.
Again, it was an easy fix. The ovary had to come out.
Yet the insurance company dragged their feet for over two months. For over two months, I was in constant agony, on bedrest, slowly awaiting the pre-op tests to get approved, let alone the surgery itself. For over two months, I had to take pain medication and see my doctor almost weekly to check my blood pressure, monitor my pain levels and make sure no infection had set in. For over two months, I had to have a coordinated care provider come to my house to assist with things I could no longer do for myself because I could barely move on my own without excruciating pain.
The ovary, along with the cyst and the mass of tissue within it, had to be removed. The insurance company ended up having to cover numerous extra doctor appointments more than was necessary, along with added prescriptions and periodic home health care assistance, all because they delayed the approval of treatment that was ultimately going to be needed to begin with. Dragging their feet and delaying approval did not save them any money. Quite the opposite.
Most recently, during a ct scan it was discovered that I have two meningioma tumors on my brain. Though 80% of meningiomas are benign, doctors still have to test them to make sure they are not. I first saw a neurologist who, in turn, referred me to a neurosurgeon for testing. The neurosurgeon ordered both an EEG and an MRI with and without contrast to be done so they can get a better look at my tumors.
It has been almost two months since the meningiomas were discovered. The EEG was completed, yet we’re still waiting for insurance approval for the MRI. Meanwhile, my neurologist keeps scheduling appointments because, until he knows for sure that they are benign, he has to keep monitoring me for signs of seizures or other averse effects.
Best case scenario – if they are small enough and benign, it is considered watch and wait, with them being periodically monitored and measured once or twice a year to look for changes. Worst case scenario – they are malignant, I need surgery and radiation. But until the MRI is done, it is a case of *Schrödinger’s tumor – we won’t know whether it is benign or malignant until the doctors get in there for a better look.
Meanwhile, I keep going in for more or less useless appointments where my doctor keeps checking in to ask how I am feeling and checks my vitals, then we sit around discussing how the insurance company still hasn’t approved the MRI. Yet, he can’t put off these appointments until he knows for sure whether we need to worry about these tumors or not. So the insurance company is getting billed for appointment after appointment to check in on how I am doing while we wait for the MRI instead of just approving the MRI that will ultimately be needed anyway. These tumors are not going to go away on their own. The MRI is needed to fully diagnose them and my neurologist is not going to allow me to fall between the cracks just in case they are malignant and surgery is needed.
I honestly do not understand why insurance companies fight patients and their doctors on treatment that is needed. It is not like any of my treatment was something ordered on a whim. There was a prescription for a substance my brain needed that my body could not make on it’s own. There was a surgery to remove an organ that was irreparably damaged and causing me severe pain. And there was a test needed to determine whether the tumors on my brain are benign or malignant. Three cut and dry cases of treatment that was very much needed and not in the least extravagant or superfluous.
Yet, the insurance company’s decisions in each of these three cases over the last year has cost them, each time, much more than it would have cost them if they had approved the treatment the doctors in each case recommended. If a prescription, a test or a procedure is ultimately needed and there is no other possible recourse to resolve the issue, why would the insurance company either deny it outright or drag their feet in approving it? It will only end up costing them more in the long run.
I with I could say my experiences were isolated incidents. In the course of my battles over the past two years, I have spoken to numerous others who have been and are currently fighting their insurance companies, as well, for the treatment they need. It appears to be more commonplace than most people realize.
When did it change that healthcare became more about trying to cut corners and save money than in treating the patient and doing what was best for their health? Has it always been this way? Wealth over health. Profit over people. It’s honestly disgusting, despicable and deplorable. Having been relatively healthy for the majority of my life, I never realized what a struggle it can be to get the treatment you need covered.
While I understand and acknowledge that fraud is rampant in medicine today and insurance companies need to validate claims before approval is given, once there is proof to support the medical treatment requested, it makes little sense to drag out or deny the claim further. Insurance companies could ultimately save substantially more money not by fighting patients on the treatment they require but by approving and expediting it so that their overall treatment and recovery takes less time and costs less money.
* Schrödinger was an Austrian scientist in the early to mid 1900’s. He developed a theory made popular in recent popular nerd culture, called the Schrödinger’s cat paradox in which a cat is sealed in a box with a flask of poison and a radioactive source. According to his theory, it is accurate to assume that the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead because either option is probable. Until you open the box and check, you do not know for sure. I referred to my meningiomas as Schrödinger’s tumors because, until the MRI is done, there is no way to know for sure whether they are benign or malignant.