Saturday, July 12, 2008

Anxiety Box

A few weeks ago, we received a class action notice in the mail regarding one of our many former health insurance companies.  We've been detached from this company now for about three years--it was our fourth insurer after Robert developed his problems, and now we are on our sixth insurer.  This is American health care in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  

The insurance company named in the lawsuit is not one of those that I would have tagged as the worst.  Actually, I would have ranked it third of the six, numbers one and two being absolutely sterling.  But, this company was apparently screwing over its claimants by under reimbursing them for co-pays for certain types of claims.  Thus, we get a notice with over 150 claims we'd filed that fit the bill during the years 2004 and 2005.  

As it turns out, if we can assemble documentation, including EOBs (explanation of benefits forms from the insurance company), doctor/hospital bills, and proof of payment, we can get back 75% of what we paid for each claim as a co-pay.  This actually ends up being a fair amount of money, given hospitalizations and some other things.  

Most people contacted with this notice have probably thrown away their EOBs that date back three and four years ago--but, well, not me.  I still have the claims and EOBs in the attic from our first insurer in 1998.  We're going to give it a shot.

But getting those boxes of claims from this accused insurer was this bizarre trigger for anxiety for me--call it my anxiety closet in a box.  For so many years, so many medical claims.  The EOBs would come into our mailbox sometimes 4 or 5 a day, typically up to 10 a week.  There'd be some slow times.  I got into the habit of only going through them every 3 to 4 months.  It was just too much to keep up on otherwise.  And there would be so many mistakes--about 80% on the part of doctor and hospital offices.  If I just let them sit for three or so months, half or more of the mistakes would have been resolved and corrected by the participating bureaucracies.  But I had to devote so many hours to arguing with people on the phone about mistakes they made for which I was not ethically responsible, but for which I was being held financially responsible.  There's more, much more, but let's just say it was a significant source of trauma and anxiety to open those envelopes.

I came to realize this afternoon, staring at that awful box of horror sitting on the table--records of every medical trauma my kid had been through, every crappy way doctors and insurance companies had treated my family, memories of feeling powerless dealing with people who had no interest in being just or fair--I just want to burn it all.  The whole box of records divided into folders of Robert's PT/OT/SpT, Robert's specialist and hospitalizations, Robert's DME, the claims for the rest of us, problem bills (with a folder for each hospital), and one folder labeled "unfathomable bills."  And inside the folders claims neatly paper-clipped with EOBs, multiple doctor/hospital claim forms, individual bills, and various other documentation--for each claim, at least 4, possibly 6 or 8 pieces of paper clipped together--and each folder arranged in order by date.  

Doing this was a way to keep order amid disorder, to have some control over what was happening to us and to Robert.  It was a way to keep fear at bay, keep it in a box.  Beat back the cruel people and irresponsible hospitals that didn't care about fairness and store them in a box. And I don't know that for any amount of money I want to go through those files again.

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