Healthcare Horror: Care Denied Over $7 Debt for Insured Patient

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CommonDreams.org

Healthcare Horror: Care Denied Over $7 Debt for Insured Patient

OK, if this wasn't personal enough just yet for me, it just got a whole lot more so. And if you think for one instant that in this nation at this point in history and with this popularly elected President and Democratic Congress you will be treated for a heart attack simply because you might die if you are not treated, think again. And if you think having insurance helps, think some more.

On Friday, my husband was denied a blood test because a computer record from some distant time past and some other state showed he had a $7 balance with LabCorp. I am not making this up.

My husband had a heart attack this week. He woke up one morning sweating profusely and with a heart rate dropping. I watched his color turn first ruddy then ashen, and then he felt as though he was going to pass out. He would not allow me to call 911 as he slowly began to feel sick to his stomach and he believed his symptoms were digestive rather than cardiac.

We have learned over the years to wait to seek care - it is expensive to do otherwise and dooms us to the endless loop of bills and collection notices and more damage to our already badly bruised credit rating. So we always wait to seek care until there seems to be no other option. We are not alone. Millions of Americans do the same. We do not want to use the emergency rooms or doctors' offices. We don't want anything to do with the whole mess.

We moved to Maryland in March, but have fought Humana insurance and Medicare transfer since then to even make sure my husband can get any care at all. And, by God, we were paying the premiums the whole time the insurance folks hemmed and hawed and stalled. It took three months to get that all straightened out, during which time they repeated over and over, "we're not denying treatment," and technically I suppose they weren't as they want us all just to get out our checkbooks and debit cards and pay up. And in the meantime, my husband waited for any doctors' appointment and got meds by calling back to Chicago to get prescriptions refilled.

My husband is a cardiac patient and a vascular patient with a complicated medical history and needs follow-up care on a regular basis. He is a responsible guy who has always maintained his insurance coverage and who avoids seeking care unless it is needed. He does not seek to overuse or abuse the system. To stay relatively healthy, he needs regular check-ups and decent intervention when necessary.

But, I insisted my husband follow up in the way we all are told is more sensible and cost effective. He went to a primary care doc on Wednesday who shuffled him off to a cardiologist after a visit barely long enough to be billed as an "extended, new patient visit." An EKG showed the grim reality. "Abnormal, negative T-waves. Inferior infarct."

Blood work was ordered in advance of the cardiologist visit set for Friday. He was to fast overnight, see the cardiologist and then get his blood drawn. Seems to be progressing, eh?

Well, only until he sat down in the LabCorp office to get his blood drawn. The LabCorp employee typed in my husband's Social Security Number, and promptly told him he could not have his blood drawn or have his test administered until he cleared up his old bill with LabCorp. The bill? $7. That's right -- $7.

And my husband has been covered by insurance for many years. But now he sat - post myocardial infarction or heart attack - being told by a laboratory employee that he would be denied care due to an unpaid $7 bill. He did not have $7 with him. He was fasting. He tried to explain. They did not budge. They did call the supervisor. She confirmed and stood her ground for LabCorp. No test for Larry Smith. He owes $7.

David King, the CEO of LabCorp, made $8.2 million in 2008. He's one of the people and LabCorp is one of the companies President Obama is celebrating who will help transform our nation's healthcare system. Indeed. And LabCorp's political participation committee donated funds to several candidates in 2008, including Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Charles Grassley, both of the Senate Finance Committee that is working on the nation's healthcare reform.

Lest we think the insurance giants are the only people hurting, harming and killing Americans like my husband as they shore up their profits, follow the money in this story alone. One doctor's office, another doctor's office, one insurance company and finally a lab - all worked together to make what they could individually off my husband and then ultimately denied his care for $7. Everybody got their bite of the apple and then left him in the dust as they moved on to the next source of revenue, oops, I mean the next patient.

Where do we stand today? Still no blood work drawn. Waiting for next week to see what we can do to set the tests and exams the cardiologist ordered before she got busy with another patient. Did my husband return to the doctor's office to tell them what happened and ask for their help? Yes. And he said not one person, not one, would reach into their pockets and give him the $7 or pick up the phone and try to help him resolve this. So what was his life worth? $7.

We'll get the tests done somehow. But the point is, we'll have to fight for it. And his heart will be stressed more and so on and so on and so on. This is the travesty of healthcare in this nation. And this Congress and this President are so damned concerned with their own political futures they cannot even see this reality for the rest of us. I am so angry.

And don't tell me that a single payer - publicly funded and privately delivered system -- wouldn't stop heart attack patients from being denied care due to old debts of $7. It's the only system that could stop that sort of abuse.

The LabCorp supervisor who denied Larry Smith's test on Friday, June 26, in Elkridge, Maryland, is named Shirley Smith (no relation to Larry) at LabCorp's Maryland office: 410-365-1264. LabCorp's customer service line for billing can be reached at: 1-800-845-6167.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado and the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation. 

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