Are we in Belarus?

December 16, 2013 — 2 Comments

Map of BelarusI spent much of last week trying to sort out the bills for the medication my daughter receives by infusion every 2 months. I’ve written before about the facility fees that many hospitals charge patients to inflate their bills and about how hospital bills are impossible for patients to understand. Because the facility fees doubled our out-of-pocket expenses, we applied to a program run by the pharmaceutical company, that reimburses patients for up to $6000 per year for drug costs.

The drug company program requires that the patient send copies of the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from the insurance company along with the bill from the hospital after each infusion. Unfortunately, neither the insurance company nor the hospital includes the name of the drug in their paperwork so the reimbursement was denied by the drug company. After many attempts I was able to get an itemized bill from the hospital (although they made it clear that I would have to call each time I needed one in the future). The reimbursement for one infusion was finally issued – but it was put on a Mastercard that could only be used for payment of future infusions. After many weeks, I finally found a person in the infusion center who agreed to help me figure out how to spend the money that was already on the Mastercard.

While I was dealing with the medical payments, I received a bill in the mail from the Grodno Archives in Belarus. I had traveled to Belarus in June to visit the town where my grandfather was born and while there, I visited the Grodno Archives to see if they had any historical records about my ancestors. I had written to the director of the archives in advance, with detailed information about my family. I even had the letter translated into Russian by my personal trainer (thanks Vadim!),

When I arrived at the archives on the appointed day, the director told me that she could not give me any information until I made a payment of $80. I offered to pay in cash but she told me they do not accept cash. They had sent an invoice to my home address and would not begin to look for records until the money was wired to their bank account. She refused to consider any other options. When I returned home to the US there was no invoice. It took several emails before I was able to get them to send a new invoice (they refused to send it by email). I wired them the money (my bank charged me a large processing fee) and got a letter back saying that they had received my money and that they reserved the right to bill me up to $500 more. I heard nothing from them for several months until the new bill arrived in the mail for $451.

I’m not sure how I’m going to determine if they actually found any information about my ancestors in the archives. If they did find anything, I’m sure I’ll have to pay more money and wait several more months before receiving any documents in the mail.

I expected this type of bureaucratic treatment from a dictatorship that was once part of the Soviet Union.

How sad that the US healthcare payment system isn’t any better.

2 responses to Are we in Belarus?

  1. Wishing your daughter and you all the best. We sympathize.

    It’s time for this to end: affordable, available, quality health care is a human rights issue. Any other approach is not worthy of us as a nation.

    I love the parallel to Belarus! I was a Russian major and lived in the Soviet Union, so i understand how close the parallels can be!

  2. Thanks, Jeanne. I couldn’t agree more. Our healthcare “system” is too often focused on competing financial incentives between hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and other players, with little regard for providing high quality, affordable care to patients.

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