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After we have submitted an appeal, failed in mediation and exhausted all attempts of resolving a problem with our health insurance company, our final option before anctually hiring an attorney is to file a formal complaint against the company with your state insurance commissioner. Remember, when you have lymphedema, you are very often you best advocate.
This section will provide information on how to do that as well s provide additional links for further assistance.
For State by State information on filing an complaint with the insurance commissioner - type in How to file an Insurance Complaint - in your browser then scroll until you find your state.
From Bobbie Sage
State insurance commissioners resolve thousands of complaints every year. Complaints vary from disputes with insurance companies about how one's claim was handled to problems with the sale and service of an insurance policy. If you feel your insurance company has not been fair with your claim or policy, you have the right to file a complaint with your state insurance commissioner.
If you decide you need to file a complaint, there are a few things you will want to do or be prepared to do.
First, go to your state insurance commissioner's web site and find out what the processs is to file a complaint. Many state insurance commissioners will have a complaint form available to download or fill out online. Once you know how to start the process, you will want to compile every piece of documentation that pertains to the complaint and start keeping records of all phone conversatins and agent contacts. Most all insurance companies have large claims departments and service call centers where you will almost always speak to a new person each time you contact the company, so it is important for you to keep your own records of all conversaions with the insurance company. Once you have your documents together and know how to file the complaint, it is now time to officially file it.
Now that the complaint is filed, your state insurance commissioner's office will likely contact you asking for any additional documentation they will need. In most cases the next step the commissioner will take is to send a copy of the complaint to the insurance company and give them a designated response time. Most likely, if the commissioner feels the response is adequate, they will send you a copy of the explanatory letter. But, if the commissioner feels the response from the company is not adequate, your case will probably be taken over by a state designated person that will work with you and the company to resolve the issue and to find out if any laws were broken.
One important thing to remember in the complaint process is that even if your case is assigned a state designated person to try to resolve the situation, that person cannot act as your attorney. Depending on what is at stake due to the complaint and your confidence in dealing with the insurance company, hiring an attorney to represent you should always be a consideration.
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NAME OF STATE INSURANCE COMMISSION STREET ADDRESS CITY, STATE ZIP CODE
Dear Insurance Commissioner:
I have filed the attached insurance claim with NAME OF INSURANCE COMPANY on DATE OF CLAIM. My physician has deemed this therapy medically necessary for my specific condition, but my insurance company has denied me access to the standard of care. I have had the following specific problem(s) with this insurance company:
1) EXAMPLE: NAME OF INSURANCE CO. has refused to cover my physician prescribed, medically necessary therapy. 2) EXAMPLE: My claim has been neither paid nor denied. 3) EXAMPLE: NAME OF INSURANCE CO. has not acknowledged my request for a copy of their policy regarding the therapy my physician has prescribed for me. 4) EXAMPLE: In violation of my policy, NAME OF INSURANCE CO. has denied my claim. Please accept this letter as a formal written complaint against NAME OF INSURANCE COMPANY.
PATIENT NAME PATIENT ADDRESS CITY, STATE ZIP CODE PHONE #
CC: MEDICAL DIRECTOR, NAME OF INSURANCE COMPANY NAME OF PATIENT’S PHYSICIAN National Psoriasis Foundation Enclosures: Insurance Claim
ANY OTHER RELEVANT DOCUMENTS (FOR EXAMPLE: LETTER FROM PHYSICIAN, ETC)
FILE AN HMO COMPLAINT
Oversight is growing in the HMO marketplace. Should you have a complaint about an HMO practice… report it. We have listed below agencies in each of the 50 states along with a nation HMO accreditation review board. In a growing number of states, HMO complaints are being tallied and are often made public. Employer groups closely evaluate these complaints when determining which HMO contracts to accept each year. You can impact which HMO's will continue practicing in your area. Empowered patients make their voices heard, if you have to resolve your issue are still unhappy with your HMO treatment… file a complaint:
The Joint Commission on Acceditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) wants to know about your complaint. Send the complaint by e-mail, Fax or mail and include the name, street address, city and state of the health care organization. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax: Office of Quality Monitoring (630) 792-5636
Mail: Office of Quality Monitoring Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations One Renaissance Boulevard Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181 Phone: (800) 994-6610
STATE HMO REGULATORS
In most states, the Department of Insurance monitors the activities of HMO's and will gladly take your complaints. California and Texas have specifically designed Departments' of Managed Care for this immediate purpose. These agencies frequently publish their statistics as they relate to the HMO complaints they have received. Please take the time to file your complaint. It is our hope that those HMO plans that are the least willing to accommodate patient concerns, be identified accordingly.
By Jacques Chambers, CLU
Dealing with health insurance and how it covers your medical bills can be a complicated and stressful issue. You may have an Indemnity or Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plan that pays medical bills after they are incurred. Or you may be covered under one of the many varieties of Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plans that “pre-authorize” certain treatments and disallow others. Either way, problems can arise in how the claims are handled, and unless caught early, they can grow into major financial and legal dilemmas.
It's tempting to ignore the whole medical payment process and assume that the insurance company and the doctors are handling everything satisfactorily. However, a rude awakening will usually occur when you receive a large bill for charges the insurance “denied or disallowed” or your HMO doctor finally admits that some of the treatments she recommended were not approved by the “HMO Committee.”
Whether it is claims payments or treatment authorizations, most billing and precertification communication between a doctor and the insurance company is in codes, and one misplaced digit can make a substantial difference in the medical care paid for or allowed. It is important to catch those small errors early, and you, as the claimant, are the best person to do it.
You do not have to become an insurance expert to be able to oversee just how your insurance company is processing the medical bills you are incurring. At the least, you can get minor errors corrected quickly; at worst, you have built a solid file that will save the attorney or benefits counselor you hire a lot of billable time. It will take some time and effort on your to understand how the process works and how you can affect it, but it will be well worth it.
The first step is, of course, “Know Your Coverage.” Easy advice to give, but this is often the biggest problem in overseeing your coverage. Insurance contracts are scary; they're hard to read; they don't make a lot of sense if you're not a lawyer. You don't need to memorize your plan or know every single provision to understand how it works. Get a copy of your coverage. It may be an insurance policy, a booklet of coverage, a Summary Plan Description, or a chapter in an employee benefits manual. The health plan description will cover twenty to thirty pages or more.
Don't try to sit down and read it all the way through. That would put anyone to sleep. But, look through it. Note the different parts. There will be parts that describe the benefits. There will be sections that tell when you become covered and when your coverage ends and what may be available after it ends. Don't try to memorize every provision of your plan so much as just get familiar with where things are so you can refer to them as you deal with the insurance company.
The Schedule of Benefits - This is often at the front of the plan. It's the part that tells what the insurance company pays and what you pay. It lists the deductibles, the insurance percentages they pay, the co-pays you are expected to pay at each doctor's visit, etc.
Covered Benefits - Often separate from the schedule of benefits, this will be a listing of what is covered. In some plans this will be a fairly long list; others will give a short list of a broad range of benefits covered.
Exclusions and Limitations - This lists the things that the plan will not cover like experimental treatment, or cosmetic surgery. It also lists the things that it will cover but puts special limits on, such as mental health, or convalescent home care, or treatment for conditions that existed when your coverage started. You may want to paperclip this section, as you may need to refer to it more frequently.
Claims Procedures - This will be a couple of pages that talks about filing claims. The important section here is the part that tells you how to appeal denials. You may want to read that through, as there are usually some important time limits and other information there.
Mark it up. This is the rulebook that the insurance company must play by so don't hesitate to use paperclips, tabs, highlighting and underlining to make it easier for you to use.
The policy alone may not be that helpful, but you will find it valuable as you work with the insurance company and your medical provider when there are claims questions since it must contain the basis of their denials or cutbacks.
How you watch the medical claims depends on what type of plan you are under. If you have coverage through an Indemnity Plan or a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) Plan, the insurance company will process the claims and pay their portion after you have received the treatment.
With these plans you will receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) every time they process a charge. Review each EOB carefully. Was everything “allowed” in full even if only a percentage was paid. If not, call and ask for an explanation. There will usually be a toll-free number on the EOB. Take notes as to whom you talk to and what they say. Don't be bashful about asking for more clarification. Follow the appeal procedures to challenge their decision, if you disagree. Ask for your doctor's help with supporting your appeal.
For Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plans, most of the claims work is done between your doctor and the HMO and consists of authorizing treatment before it is given, not paying the bill after. Learn about your medical condition. Know what alternatives to treatment are available.
Then you need to spend some time with your doctor (or your doctor's insurance clerk) to understand when and what has to be pre-authorized by the HMO. How successful are they in obtaining approvals? How often are they denied? Can you be notified of denials and participate in appeals?
Health insurance is not maintenance free. It can't be just “turned on and forgotten.” Just as you must take an active role in your health care and treatment as a patient, you must also stay alert and active as an insured with how your medical care is authorized and paid for.
Jacques Chambers, CLU, spent twenty-five years in the health and life insurance industry. He received his Chartered Life Underwriter in 1976. Since 1990, Jacques and his company, Chambers Benefits Consulting, have worked with people dealing with disabilities, educating them about their rights and advocating on their behalf. In addition to regularly writing on benefits and disability Mr. Chambers maintains a private practice where he provides individual counseling on benefits issues. He can be reached at 1-888-739-2595 or at email@example.com. His website is: http://www.helpwithbenefits.com (note: this link will open in a new browser window which you can close to return here).
By Jamie Court, Consumer Health Care Advocate
Corporate medicine is intent on shackling health care expenses by doctors and other medical profes-sionals against the interests of patients. For the patient denied treatment, this is an adversarial system.
How can patients or their allies help themselves in a system that is set up not to help them get treatment?
Your tactics must be those of negotiation. Everything is negotiableÅ\with the HMO, the HMO doctor, and the HMO hospital. In a negotiation, establishing what is reasonable is the goal. What should a reasonable person have to do in order to document his or her need for treatment? What should a reasonable cooperation have to provide and how long should it take? Is the company reasonably living up to the letter and spirit of state law? Reasonableness always includes a reasonable timetable. When will a decision be made to approve care? Who is the decision-maker? How long will it take to schedule the procedure? What is the longest it will take before this doctor sees me? These are the types of standards someone negotiating with their HMO or HMO doctor must require.
HMOs have time on their side. They will delay as a tactic of denial. Because most patients cannot sue HMOs for a denial or delay of treatment and receive damages if they prevail, the company has an incentive to stonewall. A seriously ill patient may not have the energy for a struggle and others close to them must take on that role. So what can a patient or their allies do?
There are some general rules one can follow in dealing with HMOs, but there are no panaceas, simply precautionary measures.
Write everything down. Bring a notepad and pen and take notes on what your doctor tells you. It will help keep track of your care, catch any errors, and provide a record should there be a question of inappropriate treatment.
If you are denied care, ask for it in writing. You will need a record of the denial if you want to dispute it. Leave a “paper trail”. If it becomes apparent that you are not getting cooperation, memorialize in written correspondence all conversations.
Find out the timelines. Most states have regulations establishing the timeframe within which a treatment or coverage decision must be made. Contact the appropriate regulatory body in your state and find out what those timelines are. Then make sure that everyone you deal with at the medical group or HMO knows that you know those timelines and then, make sure that they stick to them. In addition, non-government groups that accredit HMOs may have more stringent timeline requirements. Find out if your HMO is a member of organizations such as the National Committee for Quality Assurance (www.ncqa.org), American Accreditation of HealthCare Commission/URAC (www.urac.org), and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (www.jcaho.org). Know that organization’s timeline requirements for the health plan’s decision-making process.
Appeal treatment denial to regulators. Find the appropriate state agency and their rules for filing a complaint. Medicare and Medicaid recipients can take a complaint to the federal Health Care Financing Administration. Don’t rely on governmental agencies as your savior; many are ineffective. Patients must be persistent. HMOs don’t like too many documented complaints, so include a carbon copy to state regulators and politicians of any contested correspondence.
Complain to the accrediting organization. HMOs rely on their accreditation by non-governmental organizations (NCQA, URAC, and JCAHO) in marketing to employers and unions. In addition to copying your documentation to the state regulators, send a copy to any accrediting organization where your HMO is a member.
Find allies in the medical profession. When medical experts advocate care HMOs find it harder to deny treatment. Insist on second or third opinions from a qualified professional. If your HMO won’t pay for a second opinion, pay out of your own pocket. It could save your life.
Ask how your doctor is paid. Under new rules, Medicare recipients are entitled to see a summary of their physician’s contract with their HMO, which would give details of any incentive to withhold treatment. Many states also provide that this information must be given to plan members if requested. Ask for it. File a complaint with your state’s medical board if you believe that your doctor is withholding treatment for his of her pecuniary gain.
Never take “no” for an answer. Always ask if there are treatment options available for you other than those that the HMO recommends. If you have a problem, take it up the ladder — fast. If you get health care through your work, enlist the help of your employer’s personnel department.
Never stay in the hospital by yourself. Have a spouse, loved one or friend present at all times when you are in the hospital, even if that means they sleep in a chair. Having an advocate present to monitor what is happening around you, to make sure you get the treatment that you need, is essential. If something goes wrong, he or she can act quickly to secure assistance.
Don’t be intimidated by someone else’s uniform, occupation, credentials and stature. You’re paying the bills, not only as a consumer, but also as a taxpayer that helps fund the medical system. Write or call everyone you can think of in the HMO; contact your elected representatives for help; write the newspapers; whenever possible, enlist your doctor as an advocate for you; involve your employer if you get your health care through work. Don’t let the bureaucrats slow you down.
Always maintain a reasonable, professional and calm demeanor both in person and in writing. If you lose control, make threats of violence or use foul language, you will simply be dismissed as a “crank”, a “flake”, or a “weirdo” and you will not accomplish your goal.
Get the medical care you need. You must always remember that your health care is your most important priority. Do whatever you have to do to get the medical care you need — mortgage your house, get loans from friends and relatives, try to make deals with doctors and hospitals, get community help with fundraisers. Get the care and worry about the money later.
Get a lawyer if you need one. Lawsuits are no fun. Most who have gone through the process say they underestimated how hard it would be, especially to relieve medical trauma. There is the possibility that you can have a legitimate case but will be unable to prove it in court, or laws won by the insurance industry may limit your right to even go to court. Nevertheless, legal options are often your only leverage against profit-driven managed care.
If possible, never give up the right to go to court. Avoid signing arbitration agreements that force you into HMO-controlled private justice systems. Cross out arbitration clauses and initial it. If your employer has signed your right away, lobby to change that provision of the contract. Some insurers require you to file complicated internal complaints before going to court. Follow these instructions exactly, but don’t delay consulting a lawyer in the meantime.If you do not want to be denied care, remember that the fight begins with an understanding of the system and its foibles. Be an aware consumer.
Jamie Court is a Consumer Health Care Advocate with the Foundation For Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. For additional information, you may want to read his recent book on the topic Making A Killing: HMOs and the Threat to Your Health (Common Courage Press, 1999), and you can find it on the Internet at www.makingakilling.org
HMO Trauma: When Denied Treatment, Defend Yourself
By Jamie Court, Consumer Health Care Advocate
Lymphedema garments and bandages
Offers assistance in getting insurers to pay for experimental treatments, as well as other reimbursement and billing problems
Has an insurance-help hotline. CPA can serve as an alternative to litigation for patients who are denied coverage
A general information source for all types of insurance-related issues, including life and health insurance
This organization serves as an active liaison between the patient and their insurer, employer and/or creditors to resolve insurance, job discrimination and/or debt crisis matters relative to their diagnosis
HMO Crises Update Good site for information on HMO's http://www.hmocrisis.com/index1.html
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Updated Dec. 22, 2011