April 21, 2009

They keep on coming

There are two topics that seem to receive a steady stream of comments on this blog. My entry on Edmonton garners a smattering of comments every few months, usually giving E-town a huge thumbs down. The other entry concerns my tribulations with BCBS and here I receive a steady stream of sad stories all of which point to the horrors caused by some branch of BCBS such as my least favorite one Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ.

Along with the comment posted above, I got this one asking me to reveal the email address of the PR director of BCBS NJ. In the past I advised folks to google it to find it. But I just tried and it is actually a bit harder to find and I wonder if I should post to one of the many press releases that exist on the web with this information?

I hope thats some with some sort of time and lots of anger (toward BCBS) to start a website specifically geared toward and against BCBS. Call it Blue Cross No Shield (I think I actually own that and am pretty proud of the name) or something of that nature and throw up some blog and post horror stories in the style of the consumerist. There will be no shortage of them, especially if the blog is national in scope.

Get a mailing list going and start a fax campaign among many others. Share contact information about public relations directors and Other People in Power, tips and advice on fighting them, and perhaps even move to the next level of organizing.

I am not sure writing this here will do anything to inspire other and I would love to do this sort of rabble rousing as I get immense pleasure from doing so. But I simply am in the red when it comes to time. But I hope that some of the folks that have posted comments on this blog take the initiative to start a larger campaign (or someone can point me to an exisitng one).

update: Now that I think of it, The Consumerist should really take up this cause and devote a section JUST to health insurance. They are already a brand name of sorts with lots of eyeballs on the site, everyday.

January 18, 2009

Blue Cross No Shield

After two years of phone calls, nasty emails, filing claims and reports, Blue Cross Blue “Shield” of NJ finally ponied up every last cent of cash they originally did not want to pay. Since the ordeal began, many BCBS customers left comments here where I chronicled my plight and many have also sent me emails as well. In the end, I think I was successful mostly because I had the email of the director of public relations (he made the mistake of emailing me) because well, I would send him these emails and I think he just did not want to receive anymore.

Recently I received an email from Reynold Weidenaar with a pointer to his webpage where he is also chronicling what is happening with BCBS since they want to deny coverage for physical therapy. This is great and more folks need to do this exact thing, which is chronicle every last detail in a public place. In the end, they have a lot of paperwork and we need to turn it back to them and in very large numbers.

July 6, 2007

Blue Cross Blue Shield Internal Memos Leaked

Don’t you just love leaked corporate memos?

I do.

They are a window into that which we KNOW exists, yet we are not privvy to very often. Because corporations like to keep their dark, dirty secrets well hidden. Memos give us access to what I call in High Academic Jargonese “Corporate Psychological Interiority,” or to put in simpler language: memos allow us to see corporations crapping in their pants. Gross, but pleasant to see from time to time.

I just got word of leaked memos from the Insurance Company I love to hate: Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The four pages are chock full of interesting stuff, so take a read for yourself. Here, I will only highlight two things:

* Horizon BlueCross/BlueShield is picked out early in the film in a collage of stories citing bad
treatment of members.

And well, as most readers here know, I concur. Well at least
Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey/Horizon can be proud for being one of the worst.

In their concluding talking point sections, they say:

2) The Blues recognize the need for improvement of both the coverage and delivery of healthcare.
But the divisive tone set forth by Michael Moore and his movie “Sicko” is not helpful. Positive
change to our healthcare system can be best achieved through shared responsibility, not
recrimination. To ensure Americans have access to the best healthcare that is both timely,
efficient, and of high quality, requires the collective contribution of all stakeholders –
consumers, providers, employers and the government.

Try NOT being angry at a 4,000 dollar bill or worse, an 80,000 dollar bill, or even worse a death.

It is near to impossible to stop the rumblings of anger. We are human beings, after all. We are born with the capacity to think and feel, passionately and deeply.

And some of the best change comes from the fire that is anger and I hope that enough Americans are finally feeling the fire.

June 22, 2007

Happiness is…

1. Being at debconf.

2. Having your blog entry slamming Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ be on the first page of a google search using both the terms Blue Cross Blue Shield New Jersey as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield Horizon.

June 12, 2007

Housebreaking Your Health Insurance

Are you having trouble with your health insurance? Are they stalling on paying a bill? Denying a claim? Not telling you what the heck is going on?? Well you can and should take action to eliminate some of the mystery and move forward, and possibly win fight against the health insurance company.

Thanks to my unpleasant ordeals with BCBS of NJ, I have compiled some handy resources and tips to get you started. Good luck and I welcome any other tips that you think should be here. Please email them to me at biella(at)gmail(dot)com

Can’t get a straight answer when dealing with health insurance representatives on the phone? Are different representatives providing different and contradictory information? Does talking to the representatives leave you with a pounding headache? Then the following may be helpful:

1. Ideally you should tape record all conversations. If this is not possible, get the name or employee number of the person you are talking to and write down what they told you along with the time and date. If they have agreed to something, make sure they send it to you in writing. This sort of documentation may come in handy later when you are trying to contest or prove something.

Is your insurance company flip flopping on a claim? For example telling you that the claim is still being “reviewed” but sending you statements that indicate it has not been paid and never will be? What action can you take to inch things forward? The following may help:

1. Most states have a Department of Banking and Insurance and they are there to help you. Many (perhaps all) provide a service for filing a complaint against your health insurance company and other insurance and banking companies too.

When I used the service in NJ , I got assigned an investigator and their service was prompt and helpful. It was my experience that even though they were not able to resolve my issue, the insurance company started to make firm decision on many claims and this alone has been helpful. Before this, it was impossible to get a clear answer from them as to the state of all sorts of claims.

They said “NO,” & you think they should say “YES, YES, YES, YES!!!!” In other words, appealing a denial:

1. This site has some great information on how to avoid a denial and what you can do to fight one.

2. Included on their site is the Health Insurance Laws and Benefits Tool which will provide specific information about your rights in different states. For example, you will want to know if there is an external or independent grievance system to appeal your plan’s decisions. In the case of NJ, which is the state I am fighting, the tool provided the following helpful information:

Does New Jersey require an external or independent grievance system to appeal your health plan’s unfavorable decisions?

Yes, for all health plans.

On what grounds can you file your external grievance?
Investigational treatment appeal, medical necessity.

What is the status of the external grievance panel’s decision?

External grievance systems allow you to take a dispute with your health plan to a doctor or review board unaffiliated with your health plan. Thus, both you and your health plan receive an impartial ruling on its decision to deny coverage of services or treatment. Additionally, you can file a complaint against your health insurer with your state’s department of insurance.

Additional Helpful Information and Resources

1. The message boards on lawyers.com are a great place to hit for information. I have found folks there helpful.
2. You many want to blog about your experience as you may get an unexpected response directly from your insurance company. I think there are pro’s and cons to blogging about your experience but it does provide a public face to your ordeal and allows you to chronicle exactly what has transpired.
3. If your cases is particularly shocking, do not hesitate to hit the local media.
4. If your claim has been denied by an external review panel, you may not have much luck suing but if there is no external review panel, you can and should also try Small Claims Court or other legal action. Further, even if your claim was denied by an external review board, you may have other options for suing, for example, due to their bad faith handling of a claim. And on that note, here is a great legal resource covering the topic.

June 11, 2007

Blue Cross Blue Shield Chronicles: Blue Distinction, Not

A few weeks ago, I posted an account of my trials and tribulations with Blue Cross Blue Shield Horizon of New Jersey. Well now it is high time for an update, an update I think readers of this blog will be interested in because it tells a fascinating story about the Internet, blogging, and perhaps new uses of Google Alerts.

My goal in writing the post was to inform readers of their options when faced with problems caused by their health insurance company. Well, I had no idea a response would arrive from Blue Cross Blue Shield, and so quickly. For within 2 hours of posting my blog entry, the Public Relations Director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ wrote me an email, which basically said that he “came across my blog posting” and was offering his assistance.

Needles to say, I was shocked. After months of getting some of the worst customer service I have ever received (when on the phone with Blue Cross, I always felt like I was talking to smarmy collection agency reps), I get an email from upper-level management, offering his assistance.

At first, I thought some of my geek readers were playing a practical joke on me. While it seemed plausible that Blue Cross monitors links to their site, and probably do so with Google Alerts, I had a harder time believing that the Director of Public Relations would fire off an email to me, directly.

Naturally, following the arrival of his message in my inbox, a small glimmer of hope flickered, especially after he had someone from the Appeals Department contact me. And this small intervention had a large noticeable effect: decent and transparent customer service became a reality, for the very first time. Instead of interactions that were opaque and frustrating, I finally had ones that were crystal clear and intelligible.

According to the main Blue Cross Blue Shield Web Site, they pride themselves on “Blue Distinction:”

“Blue DistinctionSM is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies’ nationwide program that will create an unprecedented level of transparency with two goals: engaging consumers to enable more informed healthcare decisions and collaborating with providers to improve quality outcomes and affordability.”

The contrast of my service before and after having the Public Relations director contact me speaks volumes to the actual nature of “Blue Distinction” as it pertains to BCBS of NJ. For most of my interactions with Blue Cross Blue Shield, I encountered an unprecedented level of opaqueness and frustration until there was intervention from high-above.

I actually appreciated the service I received and saw it as a laudable move. Unfortunately, the outcome has been far from my liking. I recently got word they are not paying up for any of the dermatological services. So perhaps the fact that a PR person contacted me was significant because in the end, it has panned out as a typical PR move: all gloss and lacking substance.

What now? I am moving to an internal BCBS appeal process and if that does not work, I will move on to small claims court in NYC and perhaps a more organized web campaign. In the mean time I have basically have decided to blog about the process so look out for future updates!

May 25, 2007

Pricefull and Priceless

$ 5000 medical bill (that insurance won’t pay for)
$ 450 water bill in Puerto Rico
$ 150 library fine for one lost book that normally costs under 20 dollars

Anxiety and rage from dealing with these ludicrous bills: priceless.

Ok seriously I am now dealing with these three things and it has been really really really unpleasant. I sometimes wonder if I was once a bad as* Roman tax collector by the name of Biella Plebius and now, reincarnated as Biella Coleman, I am suffering the karmic consequences of extorting people in the 3rd century A.D.

Other times I take a lighter approach to all of this and console myself that if nothing else, I am learning a lot. For example, as I had mentioned awhile back, Blue Cross Blue Shield Horizon of New Jersey is stalling and denying health insurance bills for my mole surgery. Because I had a pre-existing clause in my contract, they are trying to squirrel out of it. However, since I never had a pre-existing issue with moles, I am pretty sure they are required to pony up the cash but getting them to do this has been a Herculean, no Sisyphean task.

Since it was clear they were not going to pay if I alone was applying pressure, I was about to file a claim in Special Civil court (the bill is too high for small claims court) but I wanted to see if I had any other options. So hours and hours after diligent web research, I finally found on lawyers.com that I can file a complaint against my health insurance via the Department of Banking and Insurance. I am amazed that NO ONE in the doctor’s office, including those whose only job is to deal with health insurance, had a clue about this option.

And even when you go to the Dept of Insurance website it is not totally obvious that you can file a complaint (it is under the “file for assistance” category). But once I got in touch with them, they have been incredibly helpful.

Now, my detailed complaint letter is with them, and some other documentation and apparently they have an investigator on the case. I am not sure if this route will be enough pressure to get the job done but at least by the time this is over, I will be in the greater NY area so that I can move to the court option.

The take away lesson here is that if you are having any trouble with claims and health insurance, do do do do file a complaint with your state Department of Banking and Insurance. This is a great first option to use.