Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The High Cost of a Heart Kid

It's 3am and I am awake. Luna woke for a rare middle of the night milk nightcap and instead of changing her diaper and filling her bottle and then slipping right back into the dream where I left off, I lay awake thinking about...medical bills.

When the Architect and I first learned of Luna's condition, when I was 20 weeks pregnant, the first thing he blurted out was, "we can't afford this!" Or maybe it was, "this will kill us financially". Either way, I winced at his brashness, but deep down inside I knew what he was thinking. We had just finished watching Michael Moore's SICKO and the Architect was terrified. The movie depicted an older couple, both man and woman had suffered cancers. They regained their health, but lost the roof over their head to medical bills.

Now that Luna is 16 months, the reality of having a special medical needs child is sinking in. For the first year of her life, we geared up emotionally to get her through her two heart surgeries and two catheters, and countless testing, shots and doctors visits in between.

Modern medical science of today is amazing. Luna lives a normal toddler life.

But it's the insurance issues (the Architect and I simply refer to it as the Insurance BS) that haunts you and hangs over you for as long as the mind can imagine.

It's not that we don't have health insurance. We do. We have Anthem, and our policy is a HSA. Basically, once we hit a five thousand out of pocket, Anthem pays 100% of all medical bills.

Ha-ha, not so fast.

Most Americans I know have had a good round or two of back and forth over a erroneous medical bill. It's pretty much the status-quo. It's part of the system. Confusing consumers of what has been paid, and what is owed. Usually there is some bogus code that is attached to all of this.... "but what does A9067BS refer to on my bill?? my child did not have a cat scan on March 13th, it was an echo cardiogram!?"

This year alone Luna has cost Anthem nearly 80K. We diligently pay, or the Architect, through his work, pays the out of pocket $800/month for the policy. We then are responsible for the 5K out of pocket, above and beyond the monthly premium, which we have also paid back in February. The Architect's place of work contributes 25% to the policy and then $1500 to the HSA account. And I should note, and this is just an observation; but our insurance went up substantially the year after Luna was born. The Architect's place of vocation couldn't afford the HMO policies for its employees. My guess our family and the family with the child with Leukemia blew the 2009 premiums right out of the water. The pool was too small to sustain the risk. Perhaps I sound bitter, but business terms like 'risk and profit pool' should not be used when referring to children with cancer and serious heart issues. But naturally we can't blame any place of employment for seeking out the least expensive insurance for their employees.

But Anthem doesn't stop there. Every week we are bombarded by medical statements. An HSA statement arrives stating what Anthem has paid out and what we have paid out. Often two statements will arrive in one envelope, stating two different things. The Architect and I pass the statement back and forth, each trying to decode the convoluted bills.

The last series of statement to land in our mailbox have been surprisingly consistent. For Luna's last catheter, we are responsible for $6700.

Did I mention already that we hit our out of pocket max of $5000 and we pay $800 a month for the policy? We fulfilled our end of the bargain, now its Anthem's turn.

So, the games begin. And actually have been for a while. Behind me, on the window is a stack of bills. Smaller bills in comparison, one for $72 another for $616, both bills from the hospitals themselves. Various balances that through "code error" (read complete BS and a practice I have since learned from industry insiders that is used often to confuse consumers), and more importantly, neither are for services that Luna actually endured. They are, in short, bogus claims that we're now responsible for. (and as of this reading, I returned home today, before publishing post to find the $616 bill has gone into collections-this is for a cat scan, a procedure that Luna did not in fact receive!)

I've given up making phone calls as its only an exercise in tail chasing consisting of hours and hours of wasted time, where everyone will be pulled in the mix, including Luna's two cardiologists and the catheter doctor, trying to decipher what a certain charge is for. Rounds of emails and phone calls will be made; to the hospital to Anthem, to the doctors themselves. Each time you're convinced that you've finally made some head way and you won't see the bill again. And then each month the same bill, arrives in the mail.

I think to myself we simply won't pay the $6700. But then worry come January of 2010 will our family have health coverage.

Meanwhile the media buzz has been all about Obama's healthcare reform. Tonight he held a press conference on the very topic. I receive endless tweets to share my story, but wonder where to begin. The opponents views bubble-up through social media in vicious statements and articles to block universal healthcare and I'm reminded of the bumper sticker, Republicans solution to the healthcare crisis: don't get sick! I can't bring myself to even follow what's going on. It's too close to home. All I know is health care is one scary mess.


Mommy said...


We aren't at your level, but medical bills are crushing us as well. Sometimes I fantasize about going out and spending 10K on frivolous furniture because at least then I'd have something to enjoy for all that money.

Indiana Miller Family said...

I totally understand everything you said. We have been dealing with these issues since our daughter was born in 1991. She has had 10 heart surgeries over the years....2 in 2008. It is a nightmare keeping bills straight and paid. And trying to review each bill after a long hospitalization is a joke.Hang in there!!!!

ann said...

We have four children, one is currently without any health insurance, and while none of us fall in the category of heart baby or kid with cancer - we can't afford healthcare. And we cannot afford the time to try to get it straight - whatever the issue. We have been eligible for COBRA since march (which means we have no jobs) - but more than 6 months later, not only are do we have thousands of dollars out in the RX we filled at our cost, the insurance co also has our premium money - and no matter how many times we file the claim, they send it back for one more thing. The insurance companies/banks/financial services companies are running the world.

Drea said...

I noticed the cheque from canadian govern.. on your blog.... lmao..
That really isn't true, us canadians are not getting money to help with anything.. our government screws us out of so much money...
I know that a majority of people think that Canada has free health care.... in one sense yes, i don't have to pay the doctor or hospital directly... But don't assume that we don't pay...
We pay through the nose.. income tax and every other tax they can put on us..
we even have a new tax they want to enforce HST..
I am saying it is aweful that you are stuck with the bills from this..
( we pay but in the form of taxes..) we pay over 50 cents on the dollers that we make to taxes..So that means that you work to pay the government the first 6 months of the year.. everything you essentially make goes to them.. to pay for the health care that sometimes sucks !!!
I am grateful ( i have a child with a heart condition -- HLHS , and i have a daughter who had a brain tumour and is severly disabled..
But you have a much better justice system than we do..
we have a legal system with no justice.... ( long story short )
I sued my daughters doctors for not meeting the standard of care.. -- which they pled guilty... But they still got off!! found guilty, but not accountable... So the doctors can screw up here, ruin someones life.. and not have to pay anything.. Where if we were in the states.. we would have recieved big $$$$... the price of health care.....

But when all is said and done, i feel for you that lose you homes because of this health care issue.. I hope that something is donefor you all..