Your Call Is Very Important To Us

I know I write about the trials and tribulations of a patient with chronic illness often, but guys, it’s absolute madness.

I’m taking a break from my own medical adventures to try and sort out the lab test bills for my kids this morning, and it is not the first morning I have devoted to this cause. I had all three kids tested for food allergies after my son suddenly developed a bad reaction to fish. My kid’s doctors have offered to write an order for further testing a few times since they were diagnosed with severe peanut allergies, but I never bothered. They wanted to check the severity and check for other foods they might be allergic to, but I just decided to keep a peanut-free home, send them to nut-free schools, and not subject my kids to a blood draw that probably wouldn’t tell us anything new.

The new public school is not nut-free, and the only kid in this house who liked fish suddenly had an instant and serious reaction to tilapia, so I decided we should check up on their allergies to see if there were others that had developed since they were babies, and to test my daughter who has lived in a peanut-free environment since birth and had never been exposed. At their well visits, I requested orders for allergy testing.

COVID-19 restrictions dictate that I can’t bring all three to the doctor at once anymore, and that’s totally okay with me, in theory. Fewer people to infect my kid when we’re just there for a checkup (our doctor doesn’t have a well visit section or sick section, and yes it bothers me very much). But, since we go to a bigger practice all the kids see someone different. That’s also fine, the people we see a generally lovely.

However, when I asked for allergy testing for all three kids, I took them to the lab for blood draws on different days because the lab also has a one-patient-at-a-time rule, which meant we got three different bills at three different times. Mary’s cost $20, Archer’s cost $116, and Jackson’s was a whopping $1200. I used the same words to ask all three providers for allergy testing, and they got a couple different tests, and also the one test they all got cost different amounts for each kid! I have lost count of the hours I have spent on hold with the doctor’s office, the lab, and the insurance over this nonsense.

If I’d only had Jackson tested, I may not have known that $1200 was a completely unreasonable price for an allergy test. I might have even paid it without checking with the insurance. If I had, I wouldn’t have found out that Quest used a diagnosis code that basically translates to a shrugging emoji and means “idk why we are doing this test,” which our insurance doesn’t cover. The code was incorrect, we had orders from our pediatrician, who spent so long on hold with Quest trying to fix the problem she asked me to try instead. Look, I know a doctor or PA or RN’s time is more precious than my own, but who in their right mind thinks a lab is just going to change a code because I said so?

I spent approximately a year on hold only to have the person at the lab essentially say, “LOL, okay rando, let me just beep boop my computer and change all the codes and just take your word for it.” I knew that would be the case, but honestly what was I supposed to do? I cannot fix the problem, but the hold times and wait times and “let me check on that and call you back” times make this incredibly difficult for people who have jobs to do.

I called again today to see why Archer’s was more than Mary’s, and the answer was something like, “he went first, but also the other two kids got an extra test he didn’t get.” Um, what? Archer is the one with the most severe allergies! What test didn’t he get that the other two did?? Their providers added extra tests I have to pay for? Did Archie need that test and his provider forgot? Of course, our health insurance couldn’t tell me what the test was for because she can’t see that information. Of course.

In dealing with another lab and another provider, my husband and I have BOTH gone in for tests ordered by our doctor, but encoded by his assistant, and when the results came in it was for the wrong test. I was tested to see if I had ever had COVID rather than testing to see if I’d developed antibodies post-vaccine, and my husband had a test repeated that was a one-and-done rather than the new test he actually needed. We don’t have a lot of free time, especially my husband who has to wait for another day off to come around again and get a time slot and remember to fast, etc. I can’t imagine what people who work inflexible hours or, holy buckets, single parents are doing right now. If you’re a single parent with more than one kid, how are you taking anyone to the doctor if you can’t bring the siblings? I don’t think it’s a bad rule, I just don’t know what you do if you’re the only adult. And then when the doctor or the lab or the insurance screws everything up, how do you spend half your life on the phone trying to straighten it out?

This is just more of a reminder of how painful it is to have any kind of health issue. Not only do I need to worry every day that my kid will be served sesame seeds or uncrustables in school, but I also have to take them to get blood draws to confirm they are allergic, get forms from the school to give to the doctor, who in some cases charges money to fill out forms for school, take the forms and the prescriptions to the school nurse and hope she can remember who needs what when there’s hundreds of kids in the building, and also the cafeteria is supposed to remember who can’t be served fish sticks, and aww, Jose’s mom made cookies from scratch and sent them in for a treat, but she didn’t say what was in them so now my kid can’t have one just in case, and so one forever, but I also have to tell the lab they made an error and tell the doctor it needs to be fixed and tell the insurance the bill needs to be reprocessed.

If you get that one $1200 and don’t have any sort of comparison, you’d just pay it and think, “well, shit, no more blood work for a while, that was super spendy.” And then you’re ignoring symptoms and physicals just to avoid a monster bill even though your insurance is fairly comprehensive. And that’s just for an allergy test! Imagine having a chronic condition, or something like cancer, where you’re seeing an array of specialists and surgeons and infusion centers and therapeutic services and specialty pharmacies. Isn’t it bad enough you have to deal with cancer? Do you really need to be calling companies all over the country trying to sort out bills and erroneous charges? I think folks who don’t have many issues are blind to exactly how many people are involved in this sort of care. Like when you have surgery and you pay the hospital, the doctor, the anesthesiologist, the pharmacy, your deductible, a lab for pre and post surgery panels, and the guy who recommended you have surgery separately. It is utter insanity. And oh, if you need some extra bandages or maybe a cane after your surgery, you can file a claim with your HSA, but even though it’s through your insurance, it’s also separate and requires so much documentation you basically have to FaceTime with these people while you purchase medical supplies in order to get a refund. People with serious or chronic issues should be assigned an executive assistant to handle all this, because the patient has more than enough to deal with.

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