I went down the rabbit hole this week. Not literally, of course. My entrance to Wonderland came in the form of a letter from my health insurance carrier with whom I have done business for decades telling me that the health insurance that has served me so well for all these decades did not suit the King of Diamonds and had therefore had its head removed. The insurance carrier, until recently a reasonable and reliable provider has apparently been stuck in Wonderland for several years now as they have come to resemble The Mad Hatter:
The Hatter explains to Alice that he and the March Hare are always having tea because, when he tried to sing for the Queen of Hearts at her celebration, she sentenced him to death for “murdering the time,” but he escapes decapitation. In retaliation, Time (referred to as a “Him”) halts himself in respect to the Hatter, keeping him and the March Hare stuck at 6:00 forever. The tea party, when Alice arrives, is characterised by switching places on the table at any given time, making short, personal remarks, asking unanswerable riddles and reciting nonsensical poetry, all of which eventually drive Alice away.
My letter directed me to a web site. Not the non-functioning federal web site of now infamy, but one of their own devising that was, they assured me, fully functional. I was offered a variety of plans and quickly found one that matched my current coverage in cost, but the precise nature of the coverage was unclear, even though it seemed to resemble what I currently had. So at the advice of said web site, I picked up the phone.
After the usual and irritating computerized phone tree I got to talk to a “Licensed Healthcare Adviser.” This is a term that I came to learn over the course of the week meant “Hired in front of Home Depot last week, made to watch a 15 minute video and given a piece of paper.” I immediately learned that the plans offered were not the “PPO” that I had come to love all these decades, but an “EPO.” Which as best as I can determine means “Use the doctor we tell you to or you are ‘SOL.’” And then of course arose the quite natural question of “What doctors are you telling me to use?’
That’s when I learned the “Find a doctor” web site was non-operational and that question could not currently be answered. But I was assured it would be operational in a couple of days. And so I returned to the real world for a period.
A few days later I tried the “Find a doctor” web site only to learn that it was still non-functional, but I was directed to down load a document that contained the names of all contracted providers in my county. It was only 800 pages long. The first 13 pages were devoted purely to acupuncturists. That’s right, acupuncturists. I went looking for Christian Science practitioners, but none were available. Apparently Chinese voodoo is medicine, but prayer is not.
Anyway, it took only about three minutes of searching the 800 page document before my computer – a device that approximates the computing power of NASA – was beginning to choke on the size of the document and its utterly flawed design. And since I do not currently own a forest to chop down to make paper to print the thing, I abandoned this effort, returned to the real world and waited again for the “Find a doctor” site to obtain functionality.
As I waited, some new questions occurred to me, and a couple of days later, I once again picked up the telephone and ventured down the rabbit hole. At first I was simply assured that I should put aside my questions because an EPO was just like a PPO except a “slightly smaller network.” When I told the March Hare that such was not what was represented to me previously, he put me on hold and apparently went to consult the Cheshire Cat who only smiled benignly and said, “Well that all depends on what ‘just like’ means.”
When I muttered that I apparently had to buy the insurance to find out what was covered, the March Hare seemed not to understand a word I was saying.
And so I pressed ahead with my questions. First question, “I travel extensively on business, suppose I am struck by a bus next time I am in New York? New York is clearly outside of California where I live.” Quickly the answer came, “Why sir, just call the local hospitals and ask if they are in our network.” When I pointed out that I was hit by a bus and in no shape to use a telephone, the March Hare magically turned into a geyser with too little steam pressure and sputtered.
I was told I would have to talk to a coverage specialist and took a delightful journey through on hold music land. Once there I was informed that the coverage specialist could only answer questions about current coverage not the new and marvelous plans of Wonderland. I was assured that the “Licensed Healthcare Advisers” could answer all my questions, and back through on hold music land I ventured.
I posed a new question. “I travel outside the US generally on an annual basis. Surely that is out of network. What happens then?” The March Hare assured me that the EPO would cover me in emergencies, regardless. I asked “What’s an emergency?” The first answer I got was “Why if you got to the Emergency Room, it’s an emergency.” I quickly retorted, “So if I have a hangnail, I can go to the ER of any hospital I want and its covered?” Then the geyser returned. I felt sorry for the geyser and tried to calm things down.
I made my inquiry a bit more specific. “Suppose I am in Rome – Italy – and I contract pneumonia. This is a very serious illness, but not imminently life threatening. Am I covered in an Italian hospital or must I board a plane, expose 3-400 other people in a small air recycled box to my communicable disease, and return to the United States in order to be covered?”
“You would have to come home, sir” was the response.
At this point I began to feel my head grow uncontrollably. Worried that it might pop like a balloon, I quickly left Wonderland and started looking for some other place where I could find health insurance. At this juncture I have no idea if I will find such a place. And if I do if that insurance will resemble anything close to the insurance that I have loved and that has served my so well for decades.
Anyway Mr. President, I wanted to write you and thank you for this marvelous journey to a land where wishes become some sort of warped reality. I may die or go broke, but isn’t a trip to a land of fantasy, where those awful rules of reason and sanity don’t apply, worth it?
All the best,