Can you even imagine a universe where you could call your health insurance and say “I think I’ll be sick next month – can you show me how you are putting aside money to make sure you’ll cover my illness?” If anything you’d be worried they’d start digging into you right then for pre-existing illness and other reasons to kick your claims.
- Mike Konczal, How Health Care is Like Zombie Insurance
Oh hi, trying my hardest to avoid becoming a zombie clamoring – no, for not brains, but certainly for my income protection claim to be assessed and for my private health insurance to step up to the plate. Following up from my previous post, What Really Happens (Financially) When You Get Sick I’m 60 days into waiting for my income protection claim to be assessed, 5 days away from scheduled surgery and I thought I’d write a post about what happened after that first post.
I’ll start by saying I am grateful for my education, for my insider knowledge about the way Government works, for my insider knowledge about systems advocacy, for my strong writing skills, and for my absolute tenaciousness and resilience in the face of adversity. Yay me. I know that many people don’t have those advantages when they are in similar situations, and it makes me cringe to think of how many of my clients bump up against this every day. I now know intimately how they feel.
I took that post and turned it into a letter. I took that letter and I sent it off to Together Union (my union), to my local MP, Shayne Neuman, my state MP, Ian Berry. I sent it to The Minister of Health, Lawrence Springborg, BUPA private health care, Colleen Jen, Senior Director, Policy and Planning at Department of Health, Queensland (their current strategic plan made interesting reading). I have also provided a copy of that letter to Q-Super who manage my income protection claim.
In my letter I made my personal circumstances explicit but I have also made it clear that I am requesting investigation into the wider health care system as I feel that what is happening to me, could just as easily happen to any Australian citizen who thinks they are safe, and protected only to fall ill and learn that the process to access support and services is exhausting and they are not, in fact, covered. I’m not taking this woefully inadequete health care system as Fiona’s personal problem – I am very clear it’s a socio-political problem and I am just a stressed out citizen trying her damndest not to become another zombie in the machine …. as it were.
If I needed any more validation of this point, I could simply hit Google and come up with articles like The public view of private health insurance written by Jane Hall Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation, where she notes:
For those concerned to see public debate on private health insurance, to promote
information and evidence as a basis for policy, and to see community values inform
health policy, there is little here to encourage.
Or a 2009 (but equally as pertinent today) New Matilda article, Health System Needs A Bigger Dose Of Reform written by Ben Eltham where he notes:
Paul Krugman has pointed out recently (and for a longer analysis see this 2006 article in the New York Review of Books), health economics is not like other types of economics. No market has the same level of information asymmetry as health-care. Customers are by definition ill and often completely incapacitated, while producers are, well, doctors — among the most highly trained and highly respected professionals in our society.
To top it all off, health-care goods and services are not like other goods and services either. A pill that could save your life is a completely different type of commodity to a haircut, a flat screen TV or a restaurant dinner. Some products can change your life. Only health care and emergency services can save your life. In fact, as philosopher Peter Singer has observed, any health system must ration care and make life or death choices. Indeed, a leading health economics textbook is labelled, simply, Who Shall Live?
Eltham’s article has a number of good links, including policy reform reports, previously written articles including the interesting one I led this post with, How Health Care is Like Zombie Insurance.
So no, it’s not my personal problem, but it certainly is effecting me personally.
It’s been 16 days since I sent my letter off to all the very important people I mentioned above. What have I discovered in my efforts to advocate for myself?
The best response to date has been from my local MP, Shayne Neuman’s office. He has a staff member, Janice Cumming who responds to my emails, and has made consistent effort to follow through. She’s bumped things up to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman, the state MP and advocated to Q-Super for a resolution of my claim. No outcome, but at least she is trying and is doing the actual work, when I can least afford to. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, she appears to be the only person truly committed to helping me to dodge the zombie apocalypse that is the health care system.
I got a response from Together union, suggesting I fill in a form for an Industrial complaint – which actually makes my complaint very much into a personal problem, and doesn’t take a systems view at all. That is to say, if I personally feel I am not being treated fairly, I can take up formal complaint – however, the reality is within the parameters of our current system, what is happening to me is considered ‘fair’. Proceeding with an industrial dispute would just be another energy bleed for no value.
Yeah, yeah I know, it’s graphic, but so is the way I feel.
I got a response from the Office of the Minister for Health, dated February 13th.
Thank you for your email to the Honourable Lawrence Springborg MP, Minister for Health.
If you would like to provide an opportunity for the Minister to respond, please email back with your title (Mr/Mrs/Ms), postal address and your correspondence will be actioned as appropriate.
We appreciate the time you have taken to contact our office.
Office of the Minister for Health
I supplied my follow-up information, and have yet to receive a reply.
And last but not least, I also heard back from Colleen Jenn, Department of Health on January 22nd:
Thank you for your email dated 13 January 2014; I appreciate you taking the time to contact me.
I am very sorry to read about your health issues and subsequent financial difficulties. I recognise the stress and frustration you are experiencing in dealing with the healthcare system.
Given the range of issues raised in your email, I am gathering the required information in order to provide you with a considered and appropriate response.
I apologise for the delay and hope to have a response back to you soon.
Policy and Planning Branch
System Policy and
Department of Health
And have not heard anything since. I reckon I should not hold out too much hope or I could very well end up like … hmm …
I’ve also written to BUPA, where I noted that ” It’s a conundrum isn’t it – we are meant to pay for private hospital cover so that we aren’t penalized on our taxes, but clearly we’re not meant to actually use that insurance as it financially disadvantages us to do so.” No response. And followed up, yet again with Q-Super, also no response.
What’s the take home message here?
Advocacy is hard work. As Krugman points out above “ Customers are by definition ill and often completely incapacitated” while at the same time are expected to jump multiple hoops, fill in mountains of paperwork, attend multiple doctor’s appointments to have dr’s fill in reports and somehow maintain communication with work and keep them updated, even when you don’t have the information yourself. You’re in a zombie apocalypse my friend, and you are seriously out numbered.
We have a health system, a private health system, an insurance system, an employment system, a welfare system and none of them are set up to help sick people access support or services. Instead the onus is on the ‘consumer’, the sick consumer to go toe to toe with these mega bureaucracies in the hope of greasing the wheels of policy and process. Instead of returning my letter and following it up – I notice that the Senior social Media Advisor from health has been busy assessing my Linkedin and twitter pages – how much of a problem am I? Obviously they have concluded not enough to worry about responding to.
The energy cost for this sort of advocacy is stupendous. It’s not a slow bleed, more like hemorrhaging. The spinoff of this ongoing advocacy is continued ill-health. It’s a vicious cycle that undoubtably results in many people simply giving up and never accessing appropriate care or entitled benefits. Meanwhile back in debt land, shit is piling up. Konczal points out:
” People who pay their bills aren’t worth much to the credit card companies. People who are in a lot of financial distress are worth a lot. However people who are in a lot of financial distress are often close to declaring bankruptcy, at which point they aren’t worth anything. How to thread that needle, keep consumers need the edge of bankruptcy without going over, takes up a lot of innovation and technology.”
Something smells a little rank. Must be all those zombies, I mean *cough* Australian citizens trying to access supports, services … health care.