Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Today's LA Times had a heart-warming story about four NBA players who helped pay for an out-of-network surgery for their then-coach, Kim Hughes, former assistant coach of the Clippers. Seven years ago when Hughes was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he opted to immediately have surgery rather than wait two months for insurance approval. The swiftness may have saved his life; he's quoted as saying if he had waited, it would have been too late.

The consequence of plunging ahead without the insurance authorization, though, meant that the surgery was not covered by his insurance and Hughes was out of pocket for the operation which cost $70,000. When current Clippers player Chris Kaman and his then-teammates Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Marko Jaric learned of the situation, they chipped in, to the shock and lasting gratitude of Hughes, especially because they did so quietly without wanting their generosity to be publicly revealed.

Every day I give thanks for my medical insurance. I choose not to do the math of how much I've paid over the years in premiums and whether I'm getting my money's worth out of the insurance company at this point or not. What I learned with Bing's care is that the costs add up with horrific speed. You may not know that most medical policies have lifetime payout limits of $1 million, and hopefully you will never, ever need to pay attention to that limit. But at the rate we were going with Bing, I was actually worried about hitting that limit if he had lived longer.

So when I was in the clinic on this last cycle with the IV started in my arm, I was alarmed at the conversation my nurse was having on her cell phone. While she was monitoring my IV, she was saying into her phone, "What!?! What do you mean Mrs. Leung's treatment today is not authorized? The IV is in her arm already. I can't take the chemo out of her arm. You just have to authorize it." And she hangs up, pats me on the non-IV arm, and tells me not to worry. "These people," she says. Easy for her to say, don't worry. I knew that the Bortezomib is billed at about $5,700 a little shot. Before you gasp at that, this is a bargain compared to the Rituxan I had last fall at about $15,000 each infusion.

Her cell phone rang again. "Listen," she says sternly, "this is Mrs. Leung's regular schedule. It's been approved before. Nothing's changed. If it didn't get approved before today, that's your problem, because it should have been. So just get it approved," and hangs up. Shakes her head, and tells me again not to worry. I sat there staring at the IV, thinking about all the things I would rather do with nearly $6,000 than have chemo.

Her phone rang again. "Okay, good," she simply says, hanging up again. "See, not to worry, your treatment has been approved." Thank heavens for players' loyalty to their coaches, and for great nurses who know what they're doing and make the right things happen, and not just for getting the needles in the right places and bringing the warm blankets.

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