The Patient's Journey: Meeting Mrs. Anderson
“…We extend patient care beyond the bedside...”
I was considering the meaning of this phrase from our mission statement when the phone rang. It was one of our customer’s patients, “Mrs. Anderson” (not her real name), with some questions about her medical bill. I was immediately struck by her tone. I could tell she was an older lady, and while her voice was soft and perhaps a touch apprehensive, it was also clear, and what I would call hopeful. In fact, Mrs. Anderson was nothing if not utterly optimistic throughout our entire call, in spite of what I learned next.
From my conversation with her, I learned that Mrs. Anderson is 74 years young. She was born during World War II, and as an adult she went to work in a sewing factory as an industrial seamstress. It was there that she met her husband, “Mr. Anderson,” and from there that they both retired some 40 years later.
As with many patients I talk to, the Andersons paid into Medicare and Social Security all their lives, and still pay a monthly Medicare premium; for doctor visits, they pay a copayment; if they see a specialist, the copay is higher; once their annual deductible is met, they pay their portion of the co-insurance. No problem.
But just two years ago, when Mrs. Anderson was 72, she received a cancer diagnosis. One treatment procedure alone costs her $5,395 – not including the additional cost of medicines, some of which are not covered by Medicare. Mrs. Anderson has been receiving treatments for over a year and a half now, keeping up with her payments as best she could. Mrs. Anderson revealed that she receives just under $800 a month from Social Security, and Mr. Anderson receives $1,350, for a combined total annual income of about $25,000. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are no quitters, and I could tell from our conversation that they had no intention of letting their debts go unpaid. It was a point of pride, one that I very much admired.
And yet, despite their best efforts, they were now in arrears nearly $8,000 out-of-pocket. Prior to calling me, Mrs. Anderson had gone to her local Department of Social Services office to apply for Medicaid, but was declined. So, it was almost with “hat in hand” that Mrs. Anderson now asked me if we could put her on a payment plan. I asked her how much she could afford and, after a pause, she replied, “around $115.00 a month. I still have to buy groceries and I need to leave a little money in reserve for the end of the month.”
I speak to enough people in the course of my job to know when someone is being sincere, and I could tell from Mrs. Anderson’s tone and thoughtful choice of words that she didn’t want me to feel sorry for her. She was simply trying to figure out how she could make this work, and felt like she was nearing the end of her options. I was thankful that I had the opportunity to have this conversation with Mrs. Anderson because I understood her mixture of confusion and determination. I was confident we could solve this problem together.
I asked her a few qualifying questions and quickly learned that she was not aware that her healthcare provider offered a financial assistance program. Somehow that had slipped through the cracks. I immediately called my contacts at the hospital and spoke with someone who could look at Mrs. Anderson’s account with me and expedite the application process. Thankfully, Mrs. Anderson was quickly approved for charity care and her debt is now forgiven!
As I hung up with phone with a very appreciative Mrs. Anderson, my thoughts returned to the phrase, “…We extend patient care beyond the bedside.” Not every case will qualify for charity care, but there is always something you can do to help someone looking for help in a seemingly hopeless situation. Maybe your “Mrs. Anderson” just needs help understanding the insurance process. Maybe she needs encouragement to call her insurance provider back because a claim was denied when it should not have been. Perhaps it’s just a matter of listening to their story, empathizing with them, and then rolling up your sleeves to find a solution together.
Even if Mrs. Anderson doesn’t remember my name (and I hope she doesn’t…I hope she’s too busy enjoying life with Mr. Anderson!), it makes me feel good to know that right now she does not have to worry about buying groceries. That is the kind of impact that gives me, and the others here at CCi, purpose. It helps me explain to others why I do what I do. We speak to thousands of patients every day, and every one of them has their own story, and their own journey.