An Oncology Nurse’s Perspective on the Health Insurance Situation

Money Bag/ by Julianna Paradisi/ all rights reserved

Costly Care

I was an oncology infusion nurse in a hospital-based ambulatory center for a number of years, many of them before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010. Besides administering chemotherapy and blood products, I infused medications to patients with sickle cell anemia as well as chronic autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Crohn’s disease.

The common denominator among these diseases is the high cost of the medications used to treat them, at the time ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 per treatment. I know, because patients told me, their nurse.

I also know because uninsured patients were required to fill out paperwork declaring their lack of income, prior to receiving authorization for charitable treatment. If they were sick enough, they were admitted to the hospital for initial treatment, at more expense than outpatient infusion, until the paperwork was completed and approved.

These were particularly difficult times to be an infusion nurse.

Some patients lost their jobs during cancer treatment, because the cost of their cancer care increased their employer’s insurance coverage risk pool rates.

Other patients worked night shift before arriving, sleepless, for chemotherapy as soon as we opened in the morning. They couldn’t afford to lose […]

Recalling the Why of Health Care Reform

By Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor ACA ruling imageIn a brief analysis of the gradual rollout and effects so far of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at the start of this year (“The ACA Continues to Run the Gauntlet”), I reviewed a few of the issues the law was intended to address when it was passed in 2010:

* the highest per capita expenditures of any health care system in the world

* consistently worse outcomes on measures such as infant mortality rate than most other developed nations

* increasing numbers of uninsured Americans each year, to over 50 million in 2009, the year before passage of the ACA

* unsustainable annual increases in health insurance premiums and drugs costs, leading to astonishing rates of medical bankruptcy

* a Medicare reimbursement process that rewarded the volume of care provided rather than the effectiveness of that care

These worsening issues had become impossible to ignore. No one believes the ACA is a perfect law; there were too many cooks in the kitchen for that. But it’s at least a good faith attempt to address real problems, to get a framework on the table that can potentially be improved upon. […]

They’re Not Taking Away Our Puppies (And God Help Them If They Do)

By Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor/blog editor

I am amazed at the amount of time being wasted on the relatively mundane matter of health care exchanges. It seems we are now facing a government shutdown; there are creepy and misleading advertisements funded by conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers in order to scare people from signing up for insurance; some red states have actually enacted laws forbidding the health care navigators from helping people understand the new system and sign up for it, and many of these states have refused to create their own exchanges to help their citizens comply with the new law.

The ACA is a law. You can’t just ignore it if it doesn’t meet your personal preferences or political ideas. Given the heated rhetoric the Republicans are trotting out about it, you’d think the government was trying to take away our puppies, instead of implementing ideas originally floated by Republicans themselves to make life a bit easier for millions of Americans whose life decisions are unduly ruled by crazy health care billing practices, byzantine insurance regulations, discrimination against those who have chronic conditions, insanely varying pricing for simple tests, and the like. […]

The Affordable Care Act Survives, At Least for Now

Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Senate roll call, Affordable Care Act/by Kurykh, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and there have been too many articles and analyses to count. The bottom line is that its fate won’t be settled until after the November elections. If the Republicans win the election, the ACA will become the first battleground, as its repeal has been promised by candidate Mitt Romney.

What is concerning is that a great many people pay attention to the rhetoric rather than finding out the facts (remember “death panels”?). This point was well made by political cartoonist Stuart Carlson in this cartoon. It’s hard not to be in favor of many of the provisions—like extending coverage under a parent’s plan for children up to 26 years of age, or barring insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.

As nurses, we need to know the facts and go beyond the political rhetoric. We need to be informed for ourselves (anything that has an impact on health care delivery and funding will affect nursing) and for our patients, who will have questions. Get the facts—read the law at the link above, a summary of the law, or the articles we published summarizing how it will affect nursing (our original article, and a 2011 update, both open access until […]

Will Anyone Miss Accidents As ‘Preexisting Conditions’ and Other Insurance Doubletalk?

By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN interim editor-in-chief

It’s interesting to have a firsthand encounter pertinent to the HCR story that is consuming the headlines. Recently, my son had a fall and dislocated his shoulder. He knew what had happened because he did it as a freshman in high school, some 10 years ago while playing sports. So he went to an ER and had the shoulder popped back in, saw an orthopedist as recommended, and went for physical therapy—all covered by his insurance plan. But all his claims for reimbursement were denied. The reason the company gave: his dislocated shoulder was considered a ‘preexisting condition.’

After my husband peeled me off the ceiling, we approached this methodically—we gathered forms, wrote letters, requested letters from the hospital, the orthopedist, the physical therapists—and appealed the ruling. After a bit, we received a response saying that they’d reconsidered and would cover the injury according to policy.

This is not a terribly compelling or poignant case, but it’s an example of the “first deny all claims” approach of some companies. Yes, it was resolved on appeal fairly easily, but why did it need appealing in the first place? I can’t imagine what patients and families with chronic illness must go through in trying to get treatment covered.

If the only thing health reform does is to eliminate the unjust use of preexisting conditions to deny coverage, it will get rid of one of the most critical obstacles to access to care.