Appealing a denial, or how to turn ‘no’ into ‘yes’: Part 3 of our series on billing

So your insurance company denied a treatment or a medication, in advance, and you want help. Here are a few steps.

  1. Understand the reason for the denial. Ask that it be clearly stated, in writing, and that the appeal process for this particular kind of denial be made clear to you. Quite often the insurance company appears to hope that by saying “no” and offering no further information, it can stop the conversation.
  2. Start an appeal. In this step, you will need to follow procedures set forth by your insurer and/or provider. There is no consistency to these rules, but essentially you need to follow them — and get the insurer and provider talking as quickly as possible. (If the doctor prescribed something the insurance company won’t pay for, then the doctor should step up and argue your case.) See David Belk here and here for how a doctor can help sort through these issues.
  3. If it’s an employer-sponsored policy, get the human resources department involved. Urge them to talk to their insurance broker or other contact if applicable. The employer is actually footing the bill here, in some sense, so they can raise a fuss and say they think it should be paid.  Often the HR departments will be sensitive to an employee’s plea, and they can use their broker or other insurer contacts to bolster the appeal. Of course this is hard and complicated — I’m not suggesting that it isn’t — but if you’re focused on overturning an appeal, you need to pull out all the stops.
  4. Get a second opinion. Some insurance policies, including many big employers’ policies, have a second opinion service to assess a doctor’s recommendation. This might be useful.
  5. If it’s a medication, there may be a Patient Assistance Plan that will pick up part of the cost. The best way to find out about this is to Google the medication and “patient assistance plan.” For details about what a Patient Assistance Plan is, and whether it’s a good idea, check out our How to buy prescriptions page. There are a lot of them — and they have different rules. Some will pick up a  portion of the cost if insurance approves the treatment, for example, but not if it’s been denied for coverage. For a really convoluted case of denial of medication, take  a look at this post on The Health Care Blog, by a New York University assistant professor of medical ethics.
  6. Ask how much the medication or procedure will cost on cash. An acquaintance told me the denied medication would cost $36,000 a year, but when she asked for the cash price, it was $24,000. This was through a specialty pharmacy. It’s still out of reach, but …
  7. Do your homework. If it’s a medication, go to the ProPublica Dollars for Docs search tool and see if the provider is getting payments from the drug company. In general, be aware of doctors’ prescribing patterns for ordering medications.
  8. Is there a generic  or an older-generation drug that works as well, or nearly as well? Sometimes new drugs bring lots of hope, but older generations or generics are as good, or almost as good.
  9. Is there a patient group online? Many conditions and illnesses have a nonprofit foundation attached to them that has information on its website  — Susan G. Komen for breast cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and so on. There might even be a Patient Assistance Plan billboarded on the site — after all, many of these nonprofit foundations get a lot of Big Pharma money.
  10. Is there a patient group on Facebook or elsewhere, like Psych Central or Smart Patients? On the actual official foundation websites, any forum conversation can be pretty buttoned up, especially if the foundation gets a lot of drug money. But a patient group on Facebook or elsewhere is not governed by the foundation, and so conversation can be much looser. You might find people with similar problems. Not everyone wants to share a lot of personal detail with Facebook or other public sites, but hundreds of thousands of people do.

Go to our blog page and search for your procedure. You might find information about what others have paid for a colonoscopy, a gall bladder removal, a sleep study, a blood test, a medication.

Be persistent: Call back, and keep track of who you talked to. This is unlikely to resolve itself overnight, but if you keep at it, you may well win.

Be polite, no matter how irritated you are.

Check out our “useful links” page.

Google around: You might find someone in a similar position.

When you’ve finished the process, let us know what happened.


Part 1: How much will that cost/did that cost.

Part 2: How to argue a claim denial or a bill.