Thursday, December 10, 2009
After a courageous 5-year battle, R lost his fight with cancer. He lived a good life while he was being treated, finishing high school, starting college, and checking items off his bucket list. This holiday season is hard for his family. His absence is palpable … and painful. What could make this time any worse?
The letter they got from their insurance company.
Apparently I ordered a CT scan back in September. The insurance company sent the family a letter telling them that they have deemed the scan “not medically necessary,” and they are refusing to cover it.
I’m used to the things health insurance companies do to try to avoid “medical losses” (their term for payments made to health care providers). I often have to fight with them when they don’t want to cover treatment that is part of a clinical trial (even when the trial is standard of care), or when they don’t approve of my choice of antibiotic, or don’t want to pay for a bone marrow transplant. Those denials, however, are usually couched in terms like “this is not a covered benefit.” This allows the company to claim that they are not making medical decisions : they are making a determination of what is covered – it is up to the physician and patient to decide what treatment is necessary, they are only deciding whether they will pay for it based on the terms of the policy.
This letter is different. It is denying coverage because someone decided the scan was “not medically necessary.” That person has made a medical decision.
Who is the person that made this decision? There is no way for me to find out, but it is likely that the person making that decision is not a pediatric oncologist with experience taking care of kids with multiply relapsed, refractory osteosarcoma. The person who made this determination may not be a physician at all. I am certain of one thing, however. This person was not in the room examining my patient when I decided he needed a CT scan. This person was not responsible for the health of my patient. This person was not trying to decide if a treatment was working, and if not, what we should do next. This person was not helping to treat my patient in any way.
What kind of penalty would I face if I were making medical decisions for patients who I did not see, talk to, or examine … whose cases I was not familiar with? Apparently, there is no penalty for someone making medical decisions from the comfort of their corporate office building, looking at nothing more than the interval of time between two scans.
Yes, I will appeal the denial. Hopefully the insurance company will agree to cover the bill. But only Ebeneezer Scrooge would think it reasonable, during the holiday season, to mail such a letter to the parents of a child who just passed away. Only the Grinch, whose heart was two sizes too small, would think it reasonable for someone in an office building to look over my shoulder and decide that a CT scan I ordered to evaluate the progress of my dying patient’s cancer was “not medically necessary.”
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