“The more than $34,000 in medical bills that contributed to Darla and Andy Markley’s bankruptcy and loss of their home in Beloit, Wisconsin, grew out of what felt like a broken promise,” Lauren Weber writes at Kaiser Health News. “Darla Markley, 53, said her insurer had sent her a letter preapproving her to have a battery of tests at the Mayo Clinic in neighboring Minnesota after she came down with transverse myelitis, a rare, paralyzing illness that had kept her hospitalized for over a month. But after the tests found she also had beriberi, a vitamin deficiency, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield judged that the tests weren’t needed after all and refused to pay — although Markley said she and Mayo had gotten approval. While Darla learned to walk again, the Markleys tried to pay off the bills. Even after Mayo wrote off some of what they owed, her disability and Social Security checks barely covered her insurance premiums. By 2014, five years after her initial hospitalization, they had no choice but to declare bankruptcy. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield spokesperson Leslie Porras said company ‘records do not indicate that Ms. Markley had tests authorized that were later denied.’ Markley said she never would have had the tests done if she had known insurance was not going to pay for them. ‘I feel for anyone that finds themselves in that predicament,’ said Markley, a nurse who was pursuing her Ph.D. in education. ‘You can go from an upstanding middle-class American citizen to completely under the eight ball.’ The billing quagmire into which the Markleys fell is often called ‘retrospective denial’ and is generating attention and anger from patients and providers, as insurers require preapproval — sometimes called ‘prior authorization’ — for a widening array of procedures, drugs and tests. While prior authorization was traditionally required only for expensive, elective or new procedures, such as a hip replacement or bypass surgery, some insurers now require it for even the renewal of some prescription drugs. Those preapprovals are frequently time-limited.” Lauren Weber, “Patients Stuck With Bills After Insurers Don’t Pay As Promised,” Kaiser Health News.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.