Social media provides needed kick in rump to insurers

health

Perhaps social media does have a bit more value than my curmudgeonly self would care to admit.

Last week I wrote about a friend who is battling leukemia. Beyond the difficulties associated with fighting a life-threatening condition, she had also been clashing with her insurers, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (Florida Blue) and Prime Therapeutics, both of which had denied her coverage for needed cancer-treatment medication.

As a result, she’d gone more than a month without medicine.

It’s not as if my friend was attempting to secure reimbursement for experimental medicine or didn’t have sufficient coverage. Florida Blue was simply giving her the runaround, even though my friend’s prescription was on its list of approved medications.

Even with her medical team working to help her, the companies denied coverage, claiming, among other things, that they had not received the information.

Doctors, nurses and health care providers worked diligently to get the correct papers into the hands of my friend’s insurers for several weeks. Yet, a month later she was still without needed medicine and still without answers.

Taking a break from such earth-shattering revelations as smoking birds and personal issues with LinkedIn, I detailed the above in a Sept. 30 post.

Around the same time, another friend started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to buy a fax machine for Florida Blue. That was because the insurer had told my friend with leukemia that one of the reasons they hadn’t received her doctors’ requests for authorization because their “fax machine was busy.”

As was stated on the GoFundMe site: “I want to raise enough money to buy a cheap-ass fax machine for Florida Blue so they can help dying people get their treatments. I would also like to buy them a time machine so they could move boldly into the 1990s, but that’s another issue.”

Within a short while Twitter was aflutter with tweets about Florida Blue’s (and Prime Therapeutics’) shenanigans, as was Facebook, and before long a representative from Florida Blue, having noticed the publicity, decided to step in to handle the case.

Around the same time, an individual with Prime Therapeutics posted a comment on my blog expressing her desire to assist my friend.

By last Saturday, my friend had her medicine in hand.

This happened because people got the attention of Florida Blue and Prime Therapeutics through social media, and because there were individuals at both companies who were willing to make a special effort to help my friend cut through unnecessary red tape and get her medication.

My friend is not out of the woods, but she is fortunate to have many friends who are or were journalists. They understand how to use social media and publicity to get things done. However, it should never have required scores and scores of people, if not more, using social media to get Florida Blue to do the right thing.

All of which raises other questions:

  • What happens to the vast majority of the population that doesn’t have a slew of publicity savvy friends at their disposal?
  • Where do those who are older and may not have the strength to keep fighting turn when they’ve been denied needed medicine that they’re entitled to under the terms of their insurance?
  • How many have died because insurers essentially waited them out, understanding full well that some of the ailing wouldn’t have the strength, willpower or ability to fight for what they’re entitled to?

I’ll not get into the injustice of a young mother being stricken with leukemia. There are some situations in life that one simply cannot wrap one’s mind around.

But I will say that those who work in the health field, including health insurers, should do all within their power to make the lives of those they serve easier – rather than more difficult – when their customers find themselves facing life or death scenarios.

Feeling blue with Florida Blue: How insurers play God

florida blue 2

Ever wonder who would inhabit the deepest reaches of hell were Dante to return and rewrite his famous Inferno?

The easy choices, if we’re looking at it collectively, are surly DMV employees, self-aggrandizing school board members and self-righteous do-gooders who miss no opportunity to sing their own praises while informing you of your own missteps.

As if the above alone wouldn’t fill up at least a couple of circles of hell, there’s another group which deserves its own special place in perdition: health insurers who make life insufferably difficult for those with serious illnesses.

I have a friend who is battling leukemia. She is in her early 40s and she and her husband have a beautiful 7-year-old daughter. She has traveled to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, many times for treatment but lives in Florida. Beyond the unfairness of a wonderful person with a great husband and sweet young child having to battle of a life-threatening illness, she also has to fight insurers which routinely deny her coverage for needed cancer-treatment medication.

My friend’s medical team has sent documents in triplicate to her insurers – Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (Florida Blue) and Prime Therapeutics – several times and each time insurance representatives have claimed that “they have no way to attach the documents to each other” or that they “have not received them.”

Screen shot from friend's Facebook feed as she expresses her frustration with insurers who won't pay for approved cancer medication.
Screen shot from friend’s Facebook feed as she expresses her frustration with insurers who won’t pay for approved cancer medication.

The folks at Florida Blue – whose slogan is, ironically, “Here For You, in Your Pursuit of Health” – have decided not to cover my friend’s prescription even though it’s on their list of approved medications.

Because of this, my friend has been without anti-cancer medication for a month, obviously not a good thing for someone with leukemia.

Her doctors, nurses and health care providers have been working diligently to get the correct papers into their hands for several weeks. Yet, a month later she is still without needed medicine and no answers.

I understand insurance is a business, but I don’t understand how paper pushers in any corporation can deny coverage to someone whose life is at stake when the needed medication is on the list of those already approved by the insurer.

At what point does someone within the company say “Enough!” and blow the whistle on this sort of unethical and, most likely, illegal, activity?

How many other examples like this are going on at health insurers across the nation?

Finally, how do the people who knowingly deny insurance coverage, and most certainly understand that they are jeopardizing lives in doing so, live with themselves? Can it be that easy to suspend ethics, compassion and decency?

Dante would have a field day with folks like those at Florida Blue and Prime Therapeutics.

Facebook: Dumbing down everything since 1355

Friend%20Request%20-%20Jesus

As anyone involved with Facebook for any amount of time knows, the social media site has become increasingly polarized on topics of politics and religion in recent years.

Early on, Facebook seemed to be particularly proficient at allowing users to portray unrealistically rosy views of their lives – wonderful spouses/significant others, above-average children, superior pets, etc.

But beginning with the 2008 presidential campaign, things seemed to take a rather vitriolic turn. Of course, it’s relatively easy to ignore those who still want to debate whether the current president of the United States was born in a foreign nation or is a non-Christian.

What’s become increasingly prevalent, at least from what I’ve seen, are inane postings related to religion. I’m not referring to all religious posts, because I’m of the belief that the Bible or various other holy books are filled with words that can prove helpful during difficult times, even for those who may not be particularly devout.

One doesn’t have to agree with another’s post to understand that a bit of faith-based prose can be well intended.

No, what I’m referring to are the all-or-nothing chain memes being shared on Facebook, similar to that above, with such wording as “You have a friend request. Jesus (Son of God) wants to be your friend. Confirm?” (There’s a helpful picture of Jesus included, in case the name “Jesus” or the words “Son of God” in parenthesis didn’t make it clear that the individual sending the meme was talking about Jesus of New Testament fame rather than, say, a Latino baseball player.)

Not exactly on par with Augustine's "City of God".

Not exactly on par with Augustine’s “City of God”.

The implication being that if you aren’t willing to “confirm” your “friendship” with Jesus, you’ve turned your back on God and, therefore, your chance at eternal salvation.

What I find particularly distasteful is a meme which shows an image of Jesus with the words, “I will bless anyone who types amen”.

Now I’m no expert in canon law but this would appear to border on the sacrilegious or, at a minimum, the ridiculously superstitious.

I don’t pretend to know the ways of God, but I’ve got a feeling that He’s going to bless those with a good heart who do good in the world, whether or not they type “amen” on a silly social media site.

Who comes up with this foolishness? Can there really be those so devoid of reasoning skills that they believe that it betters their chances at redemption to devise such tripe?

And, just so we’re clear, I’m not interested in a debate on the merits of social media evangelism. I have my faith and you’re welcome to yours, or not, whatever the case may be. But don’t insult my intelligence by telling me that the path to Heaven can be widened by a few “likes” on Facebook.

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker; Out of sync with LinkedIn

linkedin

Count LinkedIn among those social networking sites that I’ve never fully grasped.

It calls itself “The world’s largest professional network: 300 million strong.” It would appear 299,999,999 others are getting a lot more out of than I am.

According to one Internet definition, LinkedIn’s goal “is to allow registered members to establish and document networks of people they know and trust professionally.”

The network allows users to create profiles and “connections” to each other in an online social network which can potentially represent real-world professional relationships.

These connections can then be used in a number of ways, including:

  • Obtaining introductions to connections of connections;
  • Finding jobs, people and business opportunities; and
  • Allowing employers to list jobs and search for potential candidates.

I joined a few years ago because, well, I don’t know why. I suppose because others I knew had done so.

It’s really served me no other purpose than to occasionally reconnect with a former classmate or colleague.

LinkedIn, apparently feeling I’m always looking to better my position in life, also regularly sends me emails titled “Jobs you may be interested in”.

Whatever algorithm LinkedIn is using to generate this missive would seem to need some tweaking, however.

Over the past month here are some of the jobs LinkedIn believes I might be interested in (and, mind you, I’m a writer who handles marketing and media communications for my employer – all of which is clearly stated on my LinkedIn profile):

  • General surgeon;
  • Certified public accountant;
  • Director of health services;
  • College director;
  • Commercial loan underwriter; and
  • Director of engineering services and transmission planning.

As near as I can tell, LinkedIn figures out who has a college degree and who doesn’t, then it shunts the appropriate open positions to those in each category.

How else does one explain why a networking site would think someone with a Journalism degree might be “interested” in being a general surgeon, a CPA or an engineer?

Of all the emails LinkedIn has sent me over the past few months with “Jobs you may be interested in,” only one position has been even remotely close to what I actually do.

Perhaps I should be flattered that LinkedIn thinks so highly of my abilities that it believes me capable of such a wide array of professions. And to think my high school guidance counselor never believed I’d amount to much.

LinkedIn costs something like $1,200 annually for its premium package. But given the pinpoint precision demonstrated by the social network in ferreting out potential positions for yours truly, I’m quite happy sticking with the free service.

In Vermont, a solution goes in search of a problem

south burlington scoreboard

In a nation of perpetually aggrieved there is diminishing room for reason.

Consider the “controversy” taking place in South Burlington, Vt.

For more than 50 years the South Burlington High School has used the “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before.

However, now there is a movement to do away with the moniker because “rebel” is said to be associated with the racist policies of the Confederacy, a former teacher at the school told the Burlington Free Press.

“It was unintentional, I’m sure, but it’s still connected to that,” said Bob Walsh, who taught at the school for 18 years. “I think it’s time for us to recognize the fact that this symbol is inappropriate and it’s time to change.”

Walsh’s comments came during an August school board meeting. He was the only member of the public to speak against the school’s nickname.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, board chairwoman, said when she grew up in the area and participated in events against South Burlington High, she never recalled any reference to the Rebels being affiliated with the Confederacy.

Julie Beatty, another school board member and a South Burlington High alum, said she never associated the “Rebels” nickname with the Confederacy during her time as a student, and said she doesn’t think students today associate it with the Confederate States of America.

The board decided to gather more public opinion before making a decision. Young said the topic will be open for public comment at the next board meeting, which will be held tomorrow.

What Walsh and others who advocate a break with the name “Rebels” seem to overlook is that not only did South Burlington split from Burlington, but Vermont itself was established by many individuals who were considered “rebels.”

Vermont was founded by Ethan Allen, Thomas Chittenden and others who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York,” according to historian Christian Fritz.

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

And, of course, rebellion was the dominant theme in the founding of the United States of America, with the Founding Fathers undoubtedly being seen as “rebels” by Great Britain.

(Top: Scoreboard at South Burlington (Vt.) High School, with nickname “Rebels” evident.)

Mussolini’s bid to recreate empire had fateful results for Italy

March_on_Rome

Of the three most infamous dictators from World War II, Benito Mussolini definitely takes a backseat to his more merciless fellow despots, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Mussolini, in fact, comes across like a bit of a buffoon, given his fateful decision to side with the Nazis, his nation’s performance during the conflict and his ultimate fate (captured trying to escape to Switzerland, executed by firing squad and then hung upside down in a town square where his body was pelted with stones by his fellow Italians).

Il Duce dreamed of recreating a Roman empire reminiscent of the great Caesars, to the point of enacting ancient laws totally out of step with the 20th century.

He went so far as to revive the Code of Diocletian, writes Rebecca West in her masterful 1941 work Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which recounts her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s.

“(Mussolini) retrieved, whether from the half-comprehended talk of a clever comrade or by skimming a volume in the threepenny box outside the bookshop, the Code of Diocletian; and being either unaware or careless that Diocletian had perished of despair in his palace at Split, because he had failed to check the descent of ruin on the Roman earth, he enforced that Code on his country,” West writes. “This was a comical venture.”

She adds that Diocletian had “some excuse for seeking to stabilize by edict the institutions of an empire that had lasted for over a thousand years,” but it was idiotic for Mussolini “to attempt to fix the forms of a country that had been unified for less than a century and was deeply involved in a world economic system which was no older than the industrial revolution.”

Ultimately, Mussolini’s reign would be an even greater failure than Diocletian’s (284-305 AD).

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Local schools: If it’s inconvenient, then it’s not worth doing

Helicopter-Parents

Summer reading lists have been around for eons, it would seem. Until this year, that is, at least in my neck of the woods.

When my girls, who are going into the 10th, ninth, ninth and seventh grades, finished school last May they told me they didn’t have any required summer reading. Seeing how each of them independently told me the same story, and there was no information about summer reading on their respective schools’ websites, I was forced to accept this as truth.

However, as each had been given reading lists since at least the third grade previously, I found the change perplexing.

I told them, though, that they would be reading at least one book that I would pick out for them. My girls have varying levels of interest in reading: One is an avid bookworm and is never without something to peruse; another is a social butterfly and, while an excellent writer, would rather do just about anything than sit down and read.

The four start school tomorrow and over the summer between them managed to read 18 books. This, however, is not broken down evenly. One of my twins read nine books, including The Scarlet Letter, which I picked out for her. The youngest read six books, including Little Women, which was my choice. The oldest read two books – All Things Bright and Beautiful and Animal Farm – the first of which I chose because of her love of animals, and the second she chose because she thought it was about a farm (I didn’t disabuse her of that notion when she showed it to me initally). My other twin managed to get through one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I chose for her.

Obviously I would have preferred for the latter two to have spent more time reading and less time playing on their cell phones, but they only live with me part of the time so I’m glad they accomplished what they did.

What I found rather discouraging was the reason their schools didn’t assign reading lists, which I learned only this past weekend.

My three older girls were told at the end of last year that students weren’t being assigned summer reading “because kids won’t do it.” This was verified by another student who attends a different area school.

As an aside, my children are fortunate enough to attend classes in one of the best public school districts in South Carolina.

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