The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

The New York Health Exchange, which determines the metallically designated (platinum, gold, silver, bronze)  level of PPACA insurance coverage your income qualifies you to have, has no ombudsperson.   It has no meaningful appeals process to correct things like an error that deprives a patient of health coverage for a few months.   The name of the director of the New York State of Health, if you ask, figuring you will contact that office directly, is none of the public’s business, although the enterprise is a wholly public one.  

It employs practices that fit the definition of “arbitrary and capricious” but would probably not be so deemed in a court of law.   You can hire a lawyer to bring an Article 78 proceeding, under NY State law, if you have a few thousand dollars lying around, but, there is zero chance of recovering any kind of monetary damages, so why go there?    

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could, as accurately, have been called the Health Insurance and Pharmaceutical Industry Profits Preservation Act, but while the name would have been more truthful, it would have been a harder, and more embarrassing sell for the president.

But, let’s leave all that aside for now.    

Now you have health insurance assigned to you and you pay your premium. You liked the doctors you’ve been seeing for years, and were promised you could keep them, but that was not a truthful promise by the president.  No problem, and don’t get all pissy about it.  You find new doctors and you can have medical records sent to them for free by your old doctors, provided you send the proper authorizations to each previous doctor’s office.  Not really much of a problem, as anyone would agree.  

Except when you try to find out who will pay the new doctors for their services.  Then it becomes the patient’s sole responsibility– and you’d better be smart and patient as hell, preferably a trained lawyer, too — to figure out what you have to do so that you won’t be left holding the often shockingly unaffordable bill.

Although there is no requirement in the law that the patient be informed of the price of any medical service until after it is rendered (and therefore, purchased) it turns out to be possible, if not simple or straightforward, to research which services and providers are covered by insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  

All you need, in the end, is the provider’s NPI number.   You call the provider (in health insurance jargon doctors and hospitals are called ‘providers’) request and write down the ten digit NPI number for that provider. Then you call your insurance company where you can usually speak to a representative within less than twenty minutes, since they are generally busy assisting other “customers”.   You give the person who answers the NPI number and then go back on hold while they connect you to someone who knows what an NPI number is.  

Do not get overwrought when the ads you are listening to while on hold are suddenly in Spanish, or in Mandarin.  You can never be sure, from a marketing point of view, which language ad will be the most ‘impactful’ even if the customer did not oprime el numero dos when given the choice of languages.  It is best to remain free of judgment while on hold.  

One must not be unduly disturbed by the thought that every health-related transaction is driven by the imperative to maximize corporate profit.  It is also important to keep in mind that any aggravation you may experience while on a long hold has nothing to do with any active desire to make things harder for patients trying to get medical treatment.  The health insurance company keeping you on hold to speak to customer service is only trying to keep costs down, for your ultimate benefit.  

“You didn’t get the provider’s NPI number?” the representative may say, throwing up her hands.  If you had the foresight, and got the NPI number, it is only a minute’s work for the insurance company representative to look up the doctor, determine if the provider is “in network”.  If you have not made a prior call to the provider to learn the provider’s NPI number you create additional work for a representative who does not get paid very much to do the patients’ work for them.  

You may learn, to your great surprise, and only 51 minutes into your customer service experience, that one provider may have multiple NPI numbers, each corresponding to a specific office location and associated telephone number.   Call the wrong office, or even the right one picked up at the wrong location, and the NPI number and provider are no longer “in network”– even though it’s the same provider, it’s a totally different NPI number, which should be obvious enough.  

From the insurer’s point of view, why would you expect to have insurance pay for a provider who you think is in network, even if the insurer itself told you so, if you do not have the correct NPI number for the specific service delivery situs you are making an appointment to see that provider at?

I understand that the bottom line in our global economy is corporate profit.  I get that, I really do.  I don’t like it, particularly when applied to health care, but I understand we live in a materialistic world and that corporations are legally constructed psychopaths the Supreme Court has us pretend are living human beings for purposes of their right to have a say in the government that makes and enforces the laws they must “live” by.  I get all that, I do.  

I get that all presidential candidates lie, that all presidents disappoint, that Mr. Obama was no worse than most in either of those areas.  He was better than some recent ones, certainly.  If you’re going to be fleeced by a predatory corporation, or killed by a drone without charges or trial, or have your phone and email records secretly collected, or be denied a Freedom of Information request, or threatened with the death penalty for being a diligent journalist, or anything else Mr. Obama or any other American president might do, you might as well get that treatment from someone who is thoughtful, funny, smooth, cool, calm, who knows how to sound like his heart is always in the right place.

I don’t begrudge B.O. the hundred million in speaking fees he will get in the next couple of years.  He’s brilliant and very talented and deserves the handsome fees much more than most of the famous and infamous speakers who get paid obscene sums to inspire corporate audiences.  God bless America and God bless his freedom to make those hundred million in the next few years.  Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, as far as I can tell.

That said, I have limited patience for statistics-spouting, blindly partisan defenders of a deeply flawed,  perhaps fatally compromised, solution to a long-standing problem that afflicts millions of our most vulnerable, especially if that partisan defender has had no personal experience with the day to day niceties of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  

The outgoing president, taking his bows now in a last well-measured victory lap, has to get some of the blame for the many flaws of the monstrously complex, profit-driven health industry-favoring law that bears his name.  

You want to point out that he’s been surrounded from day one by detractors, many of them racists, snarling, unreasonable, petulant obstructionists who have done nothing to fix the flaws in the complicated, problematic law, outside of trying to repeal it countless times?  Fair enough. But the solution the president put on the table at the start of negotiations was designed, before anything else, to ensure that health insurance and pharmaceutical company profits were kept as healthy as possible.    It was drafted, after all, by experts who went back to work for those industries after the bill became law. 

And, as in any zero sum game, the weaker party, regrettably, wound up, inadvertently and completely unintentionally — and we’ll stipulate, out of respect, that it was done with only the best of intentions — burdened, scammed, coerced, unaffordably billed and, in many cases, simply fucked.  

But, hey, would you rather have a preexisting condition?   Or die in an E.R. with the 45,000 other Americans who died every year for lack of health insurance?   Thanks to Obamacare the number of Americans who die in Emergency Rooms for lack of decent preventive health care is certainly much lower now.   Though statistics are hard to find, I’d wager that terrible number has been cut in half.

As the president said when signing the flawed law “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  Or, as a patient protected by the PPACA might say, “don’t let the good be the enemy of the fairly crappy.” 


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