Hidden Costs

Just over a month into our new health insurance policy, and, although it could be worse, the view is not pretty. When the hospital where Al works was bought out last year, I had misgivings. I am not paranoid.

Aside from a four-figure deductible, which, I understand, is becoming the industry standard, we are now dealing with much higher copays for prescription drugs. Much higher. As in double or quadruple what I was paying previously.

I have four medications that are classified as “Tier Three,” which means that the copay is $100. This past year, on a monthly basis, one cost $25, one cost $35, and two cost $50 each. The new system requires me to buy a 90-day supply of one of these drugs, for $200, which brings the monthly cost to about $67. The other three cannot be purchased in bulk, so it’s $100 every time I need a refill.

It all works out to about $5,000 annually for these four medications, none of which have generic substitutions, all of which I need to stay healthy. I even checked out pricing on Canadian drug websites, but because these are all brand name drugs, there is no savings to be found.

So we’re stuck. In addition to this discovery, we also have learned that because the new policy started in July, but the policy year starts in January, we will have to pay the full deductible once again, starting in 2015, before we get any benefits from the plan for medical expenses. This is on top of premiums taken out of Al’s paycheck. Originally we thought his premiums would be lower than last year, but that does not appear to be the case.

Oh, and did I mention? The prescription co-pays don’t count toward the deductible, and there is no cap.

When you add it all up, it appears that this new policy will cost us at least $10,000, probably more, each year—and that’s just for me.

But there’s another hidden cost to the plan—and that’s time. Al and I both have made numerous calls to the health plan and pharmacy plan, just trying to understand what is covered and what isn’t. Then there’s all the follow-up on medications. To give just one example:

I have one medication that I’ve been taking for several years, with no problem under our former plan, that now requires pre-authorization. Okay, fine. I’ve dealt with this before. But we found out about the problem when the prescription bounced back at the pharmacy. This required a follow-up call to the doctor, to be sure she received the FAX with the request to submit the pre-authorization. Then I called the pharmacy plan to find out how long it would take: 72 hours.

All right, but in the meantime, I was out of pills. I called my doc once again and asked if she might have samples. Fortunately, she was able to give me a month’s supply. Her office is at the hospital, so Al was able to pick them up while he was at work, saving me a trip.

I went out of town last week on business and asked Al to follow up with the pharmacy. When I got home, he told me that they had not filled the prescription, yet. So I called the pharmacy to find out what had happened. They said the scrip was still on hold because it required a pre-authorization. Once again, I called the doctor’s office. The nurse told me they had sent in the forms the day I requested them.

Then we checked the mail. There was a letter telling me the request had been declined, because this was a brand name drug and there were other, cheaper meds that could work just as well.

The only problem, and this is why I had been prescribed this particular medication in the first place, is that all the other related drugs cause dry mouth, and I have dry mouth aplenty already due to Sjögren’s syndrome. So I called the doc’s office once again, informed them of the letter and explained the situation about why I couldn’t take those other meds. The nurse checked the pre-authorization file, and, of course, it turned out that no-one had thought to include that fact in the paperwork. So they will resubmit.

That’s just one prescription.

And there is more time involved for determining what my BMC doc visits will cost (they are included in our plan, but there is a facilities fee charge because they all work in hospital settings, and we have to apply for a “gap exception,” which requires proving that there is no one nearby who can perform the same service).

And extra research involved anytime any of us needs to seek medical services away from home.

There’s more to this, but I’ll stop here. You get the idea. Suffice it to say that, although I know a private-pay plan would cost even more, from what self-insured friends have told me, the reality is that we are taking a significant pay cut in our family income with this policy. I’m hoping to make up the difference with additional clients, but there are no guarantees when you freelance. The fact that I work for myself makes it easier to make all the research phone calls, but that’s time spent not earning.

Anyone who thinks that private insurers are making our health care system more efficient, think again. They’re only passing along more costs to the consumer, regardless of ability to pay. And the more complicated your health issues, the more you have to spend, even if your medical condition reduces your earning power.

I won’t be eligible for Medicare for another six years. And by then, who knows what benefits will still be available? Bottom line: Neither of us will be retiring any time soon.

Photo Credit: Peter Gerdes via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.


  1. Allen Katzoff says:

    See this article in the NY Times about how prior authorizations runs up costs in the overall health care system and damages individuals’ health. The case cited in the column is identical to what you described.
    See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/opinion/adventures-in-prior-authorization.html?_r=0

  2. Pat Bizzell says:

    Horrifying, Ev. I am so sorry. And all this does nothing but increase my anxiety about what will happen to my own and my husband’s medical coverage when I retire. Like you, I guess I’ll be putting that off! He has access to TriCare, for Army veterans, but that is a whole ‘nother nightmare story in itself. The whole medical insurance scene is just so grossly uncivilized. Don’t know what else to call it.

  3. If it’s any comfort, Medicare begins at age 65, and you have only five, not six more years to wait.

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