The BCBSM Stone Wall

A law firm that assists clients with public benefits applications frequently runs into boneheaded bureaucrats who consider it their mission to make it as difficult as possible for anyone outside the organization to receive the services they are due. Usually, a supervisor or a representative at a different office or branch can be found who will be more cooperative. Seldom does the law firm find itself trying to transact business with an entire organization of obstinate, discourteous boneheads. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) is such an organization.

Trying to procure a paper premium statement can take weeks if the insured person is not able to call BCBSM, hang on the line for 30 minutes or more, and explain what is wanted. When the insured is represented by an agent under a durable power of attorney, a retained attorney, or the spouse who pays the premiums, getting a paper premium statement usually involves a lengthy telephone campaign to get permission to mail or fax the power of attorney. Then it is necessary to wait for days for some sort of response.

Bear in mind that the information sought is not confidential medical records covered by HIPAA. It is just a paper premium statement that could be sent to the insured in the normal course of business.

Recently, a client told us that she had been trying for weeks to get a premium statement from BCBSM. She was told that a company release of information would be sent to her. It never came.

Because of past experience, I directed my request for a premium statement to Jeffrey Rumley, General Counsel of BCBSM. I attached the power of attorney signed by the insured appointing his agent. I also attached the release of information and appointment of representative giving me the right to request information and represent the insured. That document was signed by the agent. Nearly every bank, insurance company, real estate agent, brokerage firm, and government agency with which my office deals would honor a request backed up with a power of attorney and release of information. Not BCBSM!

Two days after emailing Mr. Rumley, my office received a call from a BCBSM representative. She stated that BCBSM does not recognize any power of attorney drawn up by an attorney — which is asinine. She stated that to get any information, the insured, who is in a nursing home and incapacitated, must sign a request on BCBSM’s form.

Furthermore, she stated that BCBSM would not fax the form, it would have to be mailed. There was no explanation of why they could not fax the form to my office, despite the fact that it would have no personal information of the insured – or anyone else – on it.

After a second emailed letter to Mr. Rumley, an assistant general counsel finally provided a link to procure the form for an agent under a power of attorney and a dizzying array of similar forms. The forms are, and have been, available to anyone with online access. Why the BCBSM representative was so coy is a mystery.

For BCBSM, which recently inflicted double-digit premium increases on its customers, to make it so difficult for people in nursing homes to get information needed to apply for Medicaid is appalling. There are thousands of BCBSM insureds receiving long-term care. There is no excuse for making it an excruciating ordeal to get premium verification for Department of Health and Human Services. Instead of erecting a bureaucratic brick wall, it should be possible to request that verification be sent to the Medicaid agency with a telephone call:

BCBSM: How may I help you?

Caller: I am applying for Medicaid for my mother, Suzanne Sugerbaker, and I would like insurance coverage and premium verification to give the worker.

BCBSM: We can send that directly to the Medicaid agency if you give me Suzanne’s Blue Cross member number and the case number assigned by Medicaid or her Social Security Number.

Caller: Suzanne’s Blue Cross member number is IDK313250075. Her Medicaid number is 8182850205.

BCBSM: Thanks, I’m sending the information right now.

This should not be difficult. If Google knows that I went to Wendy’s at noon and ate a Double-Double Baconater, then went to Walgreen’s at 2:24 p.m. and bought Nexium, how hard could it be for an IT juggernaut like BCBSM to verify a member’s premium and coverage to a government agency through a data link? I’ll bet that BCBSM already keeps track of how many Baconaters I eat.

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com

©2017 John B. Payne, Attorney

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Repealing the Affordable Care Act

Without spin or editorializing on the issue, here are some facts from The Center for Medicare Advocacy, medicareadvocacy.org, about the program Congress plans to repeal:

  • The uninsured percentage of Americans under 65 is the currently the lowest in decades. Beginning in 2014, the rate dropped from 16.6% to 10.5%.
  • As of March 31, 2016, 11.1 million people have coverage through the ACA Marketplace.
  • As of 2015, 11 million people in 31 states and the District of Columbia had coverage through Medicaid expansion under ACA, out of a total of 81 million on Medicaid.
  • There are 19 states that did not expand Medicaid: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
  • However, the ACA resulted in 16,748,000 people becoming eligible for Medicaid as of September 2016.

Congress says it will replace the ACA with something better. Dare we hope?

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com

©2017 John B. Payne, Attorney

The Prescription You Do Not Need

Among the clues that one is no longer young can be proliferation of prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. In this age of miracle drugs you do not even have to be “older” to be taking a regimen of four, five, or more prescriptions, daily. Aggravating this tendency for Americans to take more and more prescriptions is the fact that there is no central registry of an individual’s prescriptions, so doctors are often unaware of all the drugs a patient is taking.

Once, while volunteering as a drug crisis counselor in the ‘70s, I was called to the home of a factory worker. This was unusual because most of our calls were for overdoses of psychedelics or “downers” by students and those who tuned in, turned on and dropped out.

The man was sitting at his dining room table staring out at his back yard, catatonic. He had been seeing a large number of psychiatrists, who all gave him prescriptions for strong mood-altering drugs. His wife showed us a large toiletry bag holding dozens of psychotropic prescriptions. It was no wonder he was in the o-zone.

In 40 years there has been little progress toward protecting patients from conflicting treatment plans from different doctors or unnecessary prescriptions by scrip mills. Pill freaks can still go from doctor to doctor collecting drug prescriptions at every stop. Now they are even armed with all the brand names of the pills they probably do not need because television is polluted with Big Pharma ads, as documented today by Bloom County.

I recently learned of another aggravating factor in the drug tsunami pouring over our country – drug “protocols.” A client who takes two prescription drugs recently picked up her prescriptions and found a third in the bag, a generic for Prilosec. Surprised, she looked it up on drugs.com and learned that it is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). She told me, “I did not know that my proton pump needed inhibition. I always thought my lack of inhibition was part of my charm.”

Reading further, she learned that PPIs are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux. She had never had a problem with her GI tract and eats highly spiced, exotic foods with gustoand no ill effects.

Prilosec was recently found to be associated with an increased risk of dementia. In addition to the dementia risk, there was a respectable catalog of dire side-effects, such as diarrhea, muscle pain or spasms, heart-rate abnormalities, and seizures. Finally, since PPIs suppress production of stomach acid, the body tries to compensate for the increased pH in the gastro-intestinal tract after a period of PPI use by producing more stomach acid. This requires ever-higher doses or a more powerful PPI.

Now both curious and alarmed, she called the office of the doctor who prescribed the PPI to ask why. The nurse checked with the doctor, who told her he prescribed the PPI because it is listed in a drug “protocol” for her condition, which had nothing to do with the GI tract. In response to her expression of concern that she was being prescribed medication for symptoms she did not have, the nurse assured her that “everyone” takes PPIs. The nurse, herself, takes Prilosec, but will be graduating soon to a more powerful medication for acid reflux because Prilosec is losing its effectiveness for her (Remember about the body’s response to prolonged use of PPIs?).

Writing a prescription based on a drug “protocol” is like prescribing for a real patient from a hypothetical medical record. This raises concerns on many fronts.

First, if the patient does not have the condition the drug is intended to treat, the doctor is introducing unnecessary interactions with other drugs. Even if the doctor knows all the prescriptions the patient is using, he or she is not with the patient on a daily basis and will not know about over-the-counter drugs and supplements the patient may be consuming or lifestyle circumstances and diet that may affect how the drug is tolerated. A real patient is likely to differ in important ways from the hypothetical patient on which the protocol is based.

Secondly, prescribing from a protocol will lead to an upward spiral in the number of prescriptions doctors write. A drug protocol created by, or with the connivance of, the pharmaceutical industry will include every possible application for every drug, but will not catalog contraindicated products. As a consequence, the list of suggested pharmaceuticals for a given diagnosis will expand over time, but never contract.

Finally, many patients will take whatever prescriptions a doctor gives them. They may not realize that a prescription is treatment for symptoms or conditions they do not have. An unnecessary drug may become a regular part of the patient’s drug regime and the side effects of that unnecessary drug may require still more prescriptions to treat those side effects. Patients in assisted living facilities and nursing homes are especially prone to take pills they do not need. They are handed their medication and take it without question.

One resident in an assisted-living facility was taking over $500.00 per month in medication and was almost totally unresponsive. When the family had a money problem and couldn’t pay for the prescriptions, they stopped giving them to her. She soon perked up and started asking about her grandchildren. She had been chemically restrained to make her more tractable.

Our consumption of pharmaceutical products is out of hand. Automatic inclusion of additional substances based on a hypothetical model of a patient’s diagnosis would be one more aggravating factor. Physicians need to prescribe treatments based solely on analysis of the specific patient’s symptoms and conditions and patients need to be more inquisitive about the prescriptions they are being given. Further, any patient who is taking more than three prescriptions should have a periodic review by an independent pharmacist or different doctor to analyze the drug interactions going on.

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com

©2016 John B. Payne, Attorney

Give the ACA a Chance

It is incredible that more than half the U.S. population are against the Affordable Care Act, especially when one third of the country is uninsured or underinsured.  People can be so gullible!  I pointed this out in Suck a Vile Vial.  Pour enough money into advertising and you can sell a two-ounce bottle of caffeinated slime for more than the cost of a gallon of milk.

Before the ACA was passed, I said to a client that the country needed a universal health-care plan.  He had been watching Fox News and listening to talk radio, because he became irate and said, “That would be socialized medicine.  It would be awful.  How could you suggest such a terrible thing.”  I responded, “Gary, you are 42 years old; you are unemployed, living with your father.  You have no health insurance and you cannot get Medicaid because you are not disabled.  How much worse would socialized medicine be for you?”  He was one of the 47 million uninsured, but if he had not died at age 45, he would now be telling his representative to vote to defund “Obamacare.”

Why do so many people want to go back to 2009?  The ACA may not be perfect, but it has to be better than the chaotic hodge-podge of insurance plans, Medicaid, hospital charity care, and unpaid emergency-room visits misnamed a “health-care system” that has plagued us since doctors made house calls driving Model Ts.  Sen. Ted Kennedy and Pres. Richard Nixon (yes, that Richard Nixon, who ended the war in Viet Nam) tried to enact mandatory health insurance for employers and state-run health coverage available to all.  That fizzled and various administrations since Nixon have tried to effect universal health-care coverage in one form or another.  What is the TEA Party plan?  Forty more years of a law-of-the-jungle health care mercantilism.

The ACA may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.  Let’s take it for a test drive and see what the problems are.  Once we see how the program performs, we can decide what reforms are needed.  Dumping the ACA at this point would not set us back four years.  It would set us back 40.

 

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com
 
©2013 John B. Payne, Attorney
 
 

Obamacare Individual Mandate Tax Compliance Form Hoax

A client told me today that his wife received an “Obamacare Individual Mandate Tax Compliance Form” that the IRS is now requiring. I told him that I found that hard to believe and asked him to fax it to me.

When I received the form pictured here, obamacare hoax I found that it was a hoax perpetrated by anti-health-care activists to incite opposition to the Affordable Care Act. If you look carefully at the bottom of the first page and the upper right corner of the second page, it states that this is not a real IRS form.

The perpetrators of this scam clearly find the facts insufficiently persuasive in supporting their position. Since the facts of the Affordable Care Act do not support repeal, they find it necessary to resort to mendacious stunts intended to fool the unsuspecting.

 

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com
 
©2013 John B. Payne, Attorney
 
 

Affordable Care Act Mandate

Affordable Care Act Mandate

I subscribe to several listservs where there are conservative and TEA Party members.  The moaning and wailing over the Affordable Care Act individual mandate can be deafening.  It might be helpful to review how the individual mandate will really work.  This flowchart from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation explains who and under what conditions a person might be subject to a penalty for not buying health insurance.

 

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com
 
©2012 John B. Payne, Attorney
 
 

Supreme Court Media Whore

The Supreme Court does not allow cameras in the courtroom, but Chief Justice John Roberts is his own brand of media whore. He could have announced when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act decision would be handed down – many were expecting it today – but he wants to build suspense.

He is playing it the way television contest shows do it:

“We are down to Stymie and Fermi. Who will be the next American Idle? Stymie, you sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Happy Birthday.’ You danced the tarantala and the stumba. Fermi, you played ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on the Sousaphone.  You sang a bar of soap and rolled your eyes in opposite directions.  Our panel of judges has voted. America has voted. Our shaman has cast sheep’s knuckle bones and read chickens’ entrails. Stymie and Fermi, you are going to find out who won after these commercials.”

As if the PPACA decision needed more drama, Roberts has to drag the suspense out until tomorrow – or Wednesday – or Thursday. Come on, Johnny, drop the freaking bomb! The decision went to the printers weeks ago. Do you really have to be such a drama queen? Just give us the answer.

 

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com
 
©2012 John B. Payne, Attorney