On Thursday April 7, exactly one week prior to my scheduled ileostomy reversal at MD Anderson and 4 days prior to my pre-op testing, I learned that my appeal had been approved by BCBSTX and I would be returning to Houston for my final surgery. The two ends of my gorgeous small intestine would be reconnected by Dr. John Skibber, and I would be free’d from the suspended animation of the last year.
In the weeks leading up to this, I felt as though I was living in the dystopian and surreal world of the film “Brazil,” where a totalitarian, bureaucratic government with it’s dysfunctional and farcical systems made and changed rules at their whim, always looking for another stamp to be stamped, “t” to be crossed, or “i” to be dotted. In short, there were times I thought I might be going crazy. Under the nurturing blanket of my new Diazepam prescription, and the advice of my once again brilliant sister, on April 5th I threw a hail Mary pass and called the Texas Department of Insurance to lodge a verbal complaint against BCBSTX with a human. Their response was swift and efficient. I was once again informed that part of the deal with BCBSTX dropping this last individual PPO included mid-treatment cancer patients maintaining continuation of care, and that I was never supposed to be forced to jump through these hoops. They told me that in the months preceding this they had received multiple complaints regarding network adequacy. Then the faceless angel on the other end of the line told me that one of their agents would be contacting BCBSTX that day on my behalf, that she understood the urgency of my situation, and that they would be going to work on my complaint immediately.
Early that afternoon a TDI representative called to get a few more pieces of information and informed me that she had spoken with BCBS. She seemed confident, so confident in fact that she told me that if I didn’t hear from BCBS about my appeal by the following afternoon to “call me”, that if I didn’t like what they had to tell me to “call me”, and that in general if I were displeased with my service by BCBS in anyway to “call me.” Later that afternoon I had an incredibly pleasant and reassuring call from a BCBS representative. By Thursday afternoon my appeal had been approved, and I was on schedule for my pre-op visits and surgery the following week. I can’t begin to express how incredibly impressed I was by the rapid response by the TDI. While the written complaint process may take up to 3 months to process, and they told me the written information is important to have on file, the efficiency and efficacy of this agency in righting this wrong was mind-blowing. I am grateful in an overwhelming way.
BCBSTX spent months hoping that I would get tired and resign myself to an in-network surgeon. Suckers. I learned these very, very important lessons during this process that I urge you to pass on to anyone you know who is going through this process:
- Appeal: 95% of first time denials are never appealed. They are banking on the fact that you will think it is entirely to much trouble to go through the appeals process. It is a hassle, but it’s worth it. If they deny that appeal you have the right to engage an Independent Review Organization (IRO) to look at your case. You can request a peer to peer review so that your physician may speak to another physician regarding medical necessity. You have and rights and you have options. Exercise them.
- Watch out: I was amazed to find out how spot on my sister was when she told me to “trust no one” in their organization. She counseled me that they would look for any excuse to deny my appeal, and it was true. The day before they approved my appeal, a nurse case manager from BCBS called me to check in and make sure I had all my needs met. We discussed that their physician finder service was out-of-date and a surgeon who had been recommended was not on their list on in-network providers, but actually worked with Texas Oncology and took my insurance. 2 hours later I had a call from my representative in the appeals department stating that the nurse case manager had told her that I had found an adequate surgeon in Austin. Had I not complained about patient/caregiver privilege, deceptive business practices, and calling the states nursing association to file a formal complaint, I think this could have derailed my appeals process. Tricky, trifling, nurse case manager bitch. Trust no one. Unless they’re from the…
- Texas Department of Insurance (TDI): If you really feel as though you have a valid complaint, and that your insurance company is wrong, call the TDI immediately (or your states governing agency for insurance) and file both written and verbal complaints. Go ahead and begin the appeal process, but find out what your rights are. When I think of how much time and energy I could have saved if I had called them after my initial denial…wait, I’m not thinking about that. Ever. I will always be amazed at how quickly they made things happen for me. Not only did they do their jobs ridiculously well, but they were kind, and at that point I desperately need that kindness.
So that was it. After all that time and effort, that was it. Monday April 11 I went to MDA for a barium enema and proctosigmoidoscopy. I won’t go into detail about either because they aren’t very pleasant, but both are performed to check for perforations in the colon and rectum. Dr. Skibber was once again incredibly pleased with my results, we discussed the coming surgery, and I went home for two quick days to prepare for one more left hook from my rectal cancer diagnosis. What a year. For the love of all that’s holy, what a year.