I see a patient who has had prolonged sinus symptoms AND her right upper molar has been irritated for weeks, but then Saturday it started hurting. She saw her dentist. The dentist did x-rays and said it's her sinus. "But my tooth hurts too."
On exam, her gum is bright red above the tooth, but not swollen as it can be with an abscess. No fever. No bright red spot over the maxillary sinus.
I call our independent radiology service and ask for a limited sinus CAT scan. She is off on Mondays only, it is Monday, she is out of town next Monday. Can they do it today? Yes, but she needs a prior authorization.
I call her insurance, after looking up the CPT code for sinus CT on google. As usual I have to enter numbers before I talk to a human:
patient insurance id number
my tax id number
my national provider index number
and others until I get a human.
Then I have to give the numbers AGAIN because the insurance company deliberately makes it inefficient, even though I have entered them into the phone it doesn't transfer to the representative and you know that it COULD.
I give my name
patient's date of birth
clinic fax number
national provider index number
and finally explain: we need a prior authorization for a limited sinus CT and she has five ICD 10 symptom codes.
"She doesn't need a prior authorization." says the rep.
"What?" I say, "So it's covered."
"We don't guarantee coverage, but we don't give prior authorization."
"What do you mean, you don't guarantee coverage. I am calling to check."
"We review the chart afterwards and THEN decide if it's covered."
"No. That isn't good enough. I want to speak to someone who will check the codes and tell us if it will be covered."
"I will have to transfer you to the (patient something)."
"Fine. Transfer our information please too."
We go on hold. Time passes.
We are back to a recording:
TALKING TO A REPRESENTATIVE DOES NOT GUARANTEE COVERAGE OF A TEST. PRESS ONE IF YOU ACCEPT THIS.
No two. No other options are offered. I press one.
I talk to the new representative. "I have five diagnosis codes and want to know if the sinus CT will be covered. She is off and they can do it today. She is only off on Mondays."
"We don't do prior authorizations."
"Isn't there ANY WAY we can find out?"
"You can mail a letter to a PO box and we will review it and let you know."
I am ..... hard to describe.... my head hurts.
"Would you like the PO box address?"
"How long does that take? Yes we want it. Don't they have a fax?"
We get the fax number too. I hang up and look helplessly at my patient. "I think it will be covered. I would recommend we do it."
"Ok." She says. Her face and tooth hurt.
I call the independent radiology center and set it up for 2 pm.
They call back in the afternoon. She has a sinus infection and the tooth is bad too, they don't quite look connected. I call the Ear Nose and Throat specialist who wants her on three weeks of augmentin if she tolerates it and then to see her. I thank him and get it rolling.
But..... ok, so the insurance companies contract with me and the patient say that they can change the benefits any time they want. They "notify" me with postcards with online links. Like I have time to read and remember the changes for .... 50 different plans? There are over 500 in the US.
When are we going to stop letting insurance companies take our money and refuse care and refuse to pay the physician and the radiologist? Medicare for all, one set of rules, I COULD LEARN THEM. I can memorize huge amounts of data: I am already busily memorizing the ICD10 diagnosis codes. There are only 48,000.
And I don't know yet if her insurance will pay for the sinus CT.....