Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rape Is a Pre-Existing Condition?

By taking anti-AIDS medicine after a rape, Christina Turner discovered that she had made herself all but uninsurable.

Christina Turner feared that she might have been sexually assaulted after two men slipped her a knockout drug. She thought she was taking proper precautions when her doctor prescribed a month's worth of anti-AIDS medicine.

Only later did she learn that she had made herself all but uninsurable.

Turner, 45, who used to be a health insurance underwriter herself, said the insurance companies examined her health records. Even after she explained the assault, the insurers would not sell her a policy because the HIV medication raised too many health questions. They told her they might reconsider in three or more years if she could prove that she was still AIDS-free.

Stories of how victims of sexual assault can get tangled in the health insurance system have been one result of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund's citizen journalism project, which is calling on readers to provide information and anecdotes about the inner workings of the insurance industry. The project aims to uncover details and data that can inform the larger debate over how to fix the nation's health care system. As the Investigative Fund reported in September, health insurance companies are not required to make public their records on how often claims are denied and for what reasons.

Some women have contacted the Investigative Fund to say they were deemed ineligible for health insurance because they had a pre-existing condition as a result of a rape, such as post traumatic stress disorder or a sexually transmitted disease. Other patients and therapists wrote in with allegations that insurers are routinely denying long-term mental health care to women who have been sexually assaulted.
A 38-year-old woman in Ithaca, N.Y., said she was raped last year and then penalized by insurers because in giving her medical history she mentioned an assault she suffered in college 17 years earlier. The woman, Kimberly Fallon, told a nurse about the previous attack and months later, her doctor's office sent her a bill for treatment. She said she was informed by a nurse and, later, the hospital's billing department that her health insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, not only had declined payment for the rape exam, but also would not pay for therapy or medication for trauma because she "had been raped before."

Fallon says she now has trouble getting coverage for gynecological exams. To avoid the hassle of fighting with her insurance company, she goes to Planned Parenthood instead and pays out of pocket.

A New Mexico woman told the Investigative Fund she was denied coverage at several health insurance companies because she had suffered from PTSD after being attacked and raped in 2003. She did not want to disclose her name because she feared that she would lose her group health insurance if she went on the record as a rape victim. "I remember just feeling infuriated," she said.

"I think it's important to point out that health plans are not denying coverage based on the fact that someone was raped," said Pisano of the insurance trade group. "But PTSD could be a factor in denied coverage."
Pisano, of the insurance association, said it was not fair to draw a larger pattern from such anecdotal evidence. "These situations are evaluated on a person-by-person basis," she said. "There is nothing routine about this."

Jim Wrich, a Madison, Wis., a consultant who helps employers evaluate the companies that manage their mental health care, said his work has made him wary of the industry. "This is absolutely routine - these denials," Wrich said. "The default position is to reject care."

Magellan Behavioral Health Services, Inc., one of the nation's largest managed-care companies with more than 58 million customers, said that it does not routinely turn down treatment requests from victims of sexual assault or other clients. "We're not denying care. We are exercising our responsibility to make sure that medical necessity is met," said Dr. Lawrence Nardozzi, Magellan's medical director. "I think the process works well."

Asked if cost is a factor in the company's decisions, Magellan spokeswoman Erin Somers said: "If all the safeguards are in place to determine whether treatment is medically necessary and appropriate" then "the cost takes care of itself."

A former care manager for Magellan said in an interview that she felt pressure to deny care for cost reasons. Lois Gorwitz, a psychologist with thirty years of experience who went to work for Magellan in California in 2000, said her superiors would tell her: "We are not denying this person treatment, we are denying them their benefit. If they want the treatment they can still pay out of pocket." But, Gorwitz said, "You know that means that the person is not going to get the treatment because they can't afford to pay out of pocket."

Gorwitz quit after two years. "It's a very uncomfortable feeling of not being able to offer help," she said.

Asked for a response, Magellan's Somers said, "I think you should keep in mind that there have been a lot of changes at Magellan in the last seven years. I think the people who work at Magellan now are not having that experience."
Read it all at AlterNet

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