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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My Brother Is in the Emergency Room and No One Will Answer Any Questions

Parents, children, siblings, and other relatives of unconscious or incapacitated patients are running into more and more brick walls when they ask for information or try to influence patients’ treatment decisions.  They are being told that federal law prohibits doctors and nurses to provide any information unless there is a power of attorney or guardianship.  Since the patient is unconscious or unable to make decisions, a power of attorney is out of the question and initiating guardianship may take weeks or months.  Federal law does not prohibit the release of information to concerned relatives and friends as long as it is in the patient’s best interest.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes heavy penalties for unauthorized releases of “Protected Health Information.”  However, the law permits sharing information under certain circumstances.

The Office of Civil Rights of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posts Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on its website.  One of the FAQs is, “If the patient is not present or is incapacitated, may a health care provider still share the patient’s health information with family, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care or payment for care?”
The answer provided by the government is this:

If the patient is not present or is incapacitated, a health care provider may share the patient’s information with family, friends, or others as long as the health care provider determines, based on professional judgment, that it is in the best interest of the patient.

The answer goes on to state that the health care provider is not required to share the information, but why would they refuse if it is in the patient’s best interest to do so?There are penalties for unauthorized release of information, but health care providers are only penalized when they act unreasonably.  A provider would be penalized for a massive loss or release of protected health information because a laptop or hard drive were allowed to fall into the wrong hands, or for illegally selling a database.  A provider would never be penalized for talking to a family member or friend that the provider reasonably believes is concerned with the patient’s welfare.  Refusal to talk under that circumstance would indicate bureaucratic paranoia, not a justifiable concern for the patient’s privacy.

A concerned family member or friend should not accept “HIPAA won’t let us speak to you.”  Health care providers are permitted to talk to family members when the patient is unconscious or incapacitated.  Ask to speak to the facility administrator and show him or her this article.  If the facility administrator continues stonewalling, ask for the number of the facility’s general counsel or contact an attorney.

 

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