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Expect More – Take Control of Your Health Care

Part 5 in Series

By Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager and Sue Mueller, CWOCN

In Part 5 of the Expect More – Take Control of your Health Care series, we tackle the sticky subject of health insurance and the importance of knowing what you’re getting in your policy. How many people plan on getting an ostomy? It’s one of those things that happens in life. So you learn to live with it and then adding insult to injury you discover that the health care insurance you had proves to be inadequate to cover the costs of your ostomy supplies.  You are stunned to discover that ostomy supplies cost $300-$600 a month. Suddenly you’re expected to adjust to your new circumstance and also cope with a significant cost as you scramble to find solutions.

Every year individuals have an opportunity to re-evaluate their health care needs and insurance coverage, and if need be, during that window of opportunity, change health care plans or increase coverage.  

How do YOU get your health care insurance?

First step is to know exactly where your coverage is coming from so you know where to get information from and ask questions.

You get health care insurance:

  1. Through your employer (usually you and your employer share costs)
  2. When you buy your own healthcare insurance from your state Health Insurance Marketplace
  3. You qualify for Medicare by age and work history
  4. You qualify for Medicare by disability and work history.
  5. You qualify for Medicaid because you are a dependent child,are a parent of a dependent child, or by low income.
  6. You qualify for military health benefits because you or your family are active US military, or have retiree benefits.
  7. You qualify for veterans benefits because of your military service and honorable discharge.
  8. You qualify for American Indian/Alaska Native healthcare coverage.

What are your medical needs?

You can begin to determine your needs by calculating your medical risks. What is your medical history and your family’s medical history?  What are your lifestyle health behaviors (i.e., diet, exercise, smoker etc.)? As you age, your medical risks increase, so take this into consideration when planning health insurance coverage. If you have several medical diagnoses/pre-existing conditions (e.g.., colostomy, urostomy or ileostomy), take prescription medications, and require visits with specialist physicians you have different needs and risks than someone with no diagnoses and no prescriptions.

So what is the best employment and financial strategy for you? If you can’t afford marketplace healthcare insurance can you or your spouse become employed by a large company with comprehensive benefits? What is your age? You might make one choice at your present age and another choice at a later date. Ask around, educate yourself, every state has a number to call to get healthcare insurance information (ask for SHIP- state health insurance assistance plan).  For example, some people don’t understand that they need to sign up for Medicare Part B insurance (where ostomy supplies are covered) when they are first eligible or simply don’t because of the additional premium due. Others have been misinformed and thought the VA would cover all their healthcare needs; however, they actually need to sign up for Medicare A and B AND use the VA. Also many people don’t realize that there is a penalty for not signing up for Medicare B and D when you are first eligible.

Once you calculate your medical risks, examine your finances and are choosing a healthcare policy, you need to know:

Your health insurance policy is an agreement between you and your insurance company, a contract. The policy lists a package of medical benefits such as tests, drugs, and treatment services. The insurance company agrees to cover the cost of certain benefits which are listed in your policy. These are called “covered services.” Your policy also lists the kinds of services that are not covered by your insurance company, and circumstances that are not covered (exclusions). You have to pay for any uncovered medical care that you receive. Don’t confuse what your policy covers with what is “right”, what your neighbor’s policy covers or what you think you are “entitled to”. What is covered is what is stated in your policy. If you understand this key concept it will save you a lot of stress down the road. This concept is true for Medicare, for Medicaid and all other health insurances who set the terms (rules) of the insurance policy agreement that you have made with them.

Insurance Basics

Some other items you need to know about your health insurance are these basic terms:

Plan Types- HMO (Health Maintenance Organization, managed care), PPO (Preferred Provider Organization ), POS (Point of Service). They all have different rules.

Premium- If you have employer sponsored insurance this is the amount you or your employer pays for your insurance coverage. Frequently you pay part and your employer pays part. If you are buying the insurance independently this is what you pay for your insurance. This is paid even if you don’t need to go to the doctor or use your insurance. Insurance costs vary by state.

Deductible- What you need to pay before your insurance kicks in. (Original Medicare and many companies have an annual deductible which must be met. Some people save money on the cost of insurance premiums by buying high deductible policies). You may get denied for supplies or a service because you have not met your deductible for the year. For example, someone with an annual deductible of $4,000 will have to pay for all of their supplies or health services until they reach that $4,000.

Coinsurance- The percent of the cost that you are responsible to pay for covered services after you meet your deductible. (ex. Original Medicare pays 80% of the Medicare approved amount of a covered service you pay 20% unless you have a supplemental policy which picks up the remaining 20%). Medicare Advantage Plans/Type C insurances set the costs of the copays which are covered in their benefit booklets. Some people have purchased insurance through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Marketplace and tried to save money on premiums but found that they are responsible for 30% of the costs with insurance paying 70%.

Copay- This is the fixed amount of money you pay for certain services such as prescriptions or MD visits. Usually, visits at urgent care or the emergency department have higher copays. These rules are all listed in your insurance policy and/or benefits book. For example, a plan might indicate that you pay $20 for each doctor visit.   

In-Network versus Out-of-Network Benefits- An in-network provider is one contracted with the health insurance company to provide services to plan members for specific pre-negotiated rates. Typically, when you see an in-network provider you receive 100% coverage.  An out-of-network provider is one not contracted with the health insurance plan and you will need to pay a percentage of the cost of the services (usually insurance covers 80% and you pay 20%).

Accepts Medicare assignment- Means your doctor, provider or supplier agrees to accept the Medicare-approved amount as full payment for covered services.

Non participating providers have NOT signed an agreement to accept an assignment. They can charge you more than the Medicare approved amount up to the “limiting charge”.

Maximum Out of Pocket Expense- This is the maximum amount that you pay for in-network services and prescriptions in a calendar year. This includes the deductible, coinsurance and copays. It is wise to keep track of what you have paid for and be aware of the amount of the maximum because after this amount is reached the services are covered 100%.

For a more complete list of insurance term definitions visit this website.

All of the above can change, so it’s important to annually review your plan and see if it still meets your needs. This can greatly affect the cost to you for your health care, so it’s always a good idea to compare plan options, estimate the costs of your care and consider all of the insurance costs (premium, deductible etc.). How well does your insurance cover your needs?  For example how much do your supplies cost each month and how much will you pay out of pocket until your plan coverage starts paying the bill? UOAA gets many calls from people who are looking for help with paying for their ostomy supplies because they can’t afford their high deductibles or copays.

Are your ostomy medical necessities a covered benefit?  

Is a medical necessity the same as a covered benefit? A medical necessity is something that your doctor has decided is necessary. A medical benefit is something that your insurance plan has agreed to cover. In some cases, your doctor might decide that you need medical care that is not covered by your insurance policy. Insurance companies determine what tests, drugs and services they will cover. These choices are based on their understanding of the kinds of medical care that most patients need. Your insurance company’s choices may mean that the test, drug, or service you need isn’t covered by your policy and then you will need to pay for that service or item. It’s important to know what is covered by your insurance policy such as your ostomy supplies, so you will need to consult the summary plan description and evidence of coverage, (ex. benefits booklet, Medicare and You publication). The customer service agent may be able to tell you how to document your need or what they require if you have a medical reason to need more or different supplies.

Knowing what you need and being able to explain it is vitally important. Don’t expect people who don’t have an ostomy or experience with an ostomy to understand what you need. An example of this is the gentleman who had a new ostomy and went to an insurance broker to choose a Medicare C /Medicare Advantage Plan. He was assured that the plan he chose was an excellent plan and certainly covered all the bases. What resulted was that he had very high copays for his supplies and it was not a good plan for him at all. He also was not aware that if you join a Medicare Advantage Plan for the first time and you aren’t happy with the plan, you have special rights under federal law to buy a Medigap policy if you return to Original Medicare within 12 months of joining (Medicare and You- section 5).

Today the vast majority of health insurance plans do cover ostomy supplies, but how they are covered varies.  Make sure you ask if the plan will cover what you need and how they will cover it. As you compare plan options and shop around ask yourself these 10 Questions to Ask Before You Choose a Health Plan.

Final thoughts

It is critical that as an ostomate you be your own patient advocate and ensure your health plan covers your medically necessary ostomy supplies. Insurers should not determine your medical treatment plan.  That should be between you and your medical professional.

Really, there is a logical structure, rhyme and reason to all this health insurance business and if you approach it with that in mind you will be more successful. For more information on insurance reimbursement check out this webinar.

Take the time and effort to do some necessary research on insurance plans to find the best quality, and most cost-effective to meet your ostomy needs and financial situation. In the long run you’ll be thankful you did.

Take control of your healthcare and don’t let your health plan let you down!

Disclaimer: UOAA does not provide insurance advice or financial assistance for supplies. We do recognize there may be times for emergency supplies. Please use this list of resources which may provide assistance on a temporary basis.

Expect More – Take Control of Your Health Care 

Part 4 in Series

By UOAA Advocacy Committee

“Details matter. It’s worth getting it right.” ~ Steve Jobs

The Buck Stops Here

Since UOAA started the advocacy campaign we have been stressing that YOU are your own best advocate.  This may be hard to believe since the whole business of insurance is so overwhelming that it feels like a David and Goliath story.  Like anything else, once you understand the rules of the game it makes it a lot easier. You actually have a bigger part in the game then you may know.  Often consumers of medical care, patients, people like you, think that everyone knows their story. You are asked a million questions every time you pass through the doorway of any hospital or doctor’s office and everyone is writing things down.  How many times do you have to tell your story? Answer: as many times as it takes to get the results you want. Unfortunately, the goal of great communication among the players in the healthcare game has not been reached, and all these computers do not talk to each other as much as you think. So what this means is that you have to make sure that everyone knows the important parts of your story and that they understand what you need.

So it goes like this, the people who pay the bills want to make sure that the money that is paid is according to their rules; that is, for a medical reason.  So the people who are asking to be paid have to explain that the service or supply is medically necessary. For example, the company that sends out your supplies (ostomy supply distributor) has to be able to say that you need the supplies because you have an ostomy, what kind of ostomy you have, why you have an ostomy, and when you had your surgery.  Then if you have Medicare they have to ask you questions to make sure someone else is not giving you supplies (like a home care agency or nursing home or hospital) because Medicare doesn’t want to pay double. The doctor or physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner has to report some of the same things plus show in their notes (your medical record) they have spoken to you about your ostomy and what you need for your care.  This is where you come in; you have to make sure your doctor knows what you need and why, even though your doctor may know very little about ostomies.

Get More Involved with your Doctor in Your Healthcare

A good suggestion is to visit your healthcare provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) at least once a year and provide a supply checklist which includes all the supplies you need (with the product numbers), and what type of ostomy you have. At this visit discuss what has happened in the last year; for example, you had a yeast infection around your stoma, you went to the emergency room for an obstruction or dehydration, you developed a hernia around your stoma, you gained or lost weight and had to change your type of ostomy product… This is the kind of information that needs to be in your medical record.  Your medical care provider may then give you a referral to an ostomy nurse at a wound or ostomy clinic, or a dermatologist or may just write it down in your record so when the insurance company wants to know why you now need a belt or a different kind of pouch or a greater quantity of pouches, they will know why.

Medicare has done research to figure out how many supplies an “average” person with an ostomy usually needs. If what you need is different, then your doctor must include information on your medical condition to support the need for the type and quantity of items ordered.  If you are working with a nurse who is specially educated about ostomies, the nurse may also be able to help you by writing down why you need different supplies than the average ostomate and give that information to your doctor to put in your medical record. This information in your medical record can then be given to your ostomy supply company and or your insurance. It is then the responsibility, under Medicare guidelines, of your supply company to get this information from your medical provider.  

An example of a special situation that would require additional supplies might be that your skin is irritated from frequent leakage of your pouching system due to your stoma being flush to the skin or below the skin. You require frequent pouch changes until your skin can heal. Any request for supplies more than the average amount is marked for review.  Just because a person “wants” more is not a good enough reason and those requests for supplies (claims) will be denied. You might have to have detailed notes in your medical record about why you need to use a convex wafer or pouch (such as because you have a stoma which is below skin level, or the stoma opening is at skin level).

Medicare has specific guidelines for the coverage of ostomy supplies, including that they be used exclusively for colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy management.  Ostomy pouches being used to manage fistula or wounds are not covered under Medicare guidelines.

Be aware that suppliers will not receive payment from Medicare for the items that are ordered if your physician did not provide the proper detailed information from your medical records when it is requested or if your detailed written order (prescription) is missing information like a signature. Furthermore, not providing this information may result in you, the patient, having to pay for the item yourself.  Note that your doctor’s cooperation is a legal requirement as outlined in the Social Security Act, the law governing Medicare.

To help you better prepare for your next office visit, please use this new checklist resource.

Pay Attention to the Details

The details are important, sometimes a date is wrong, the type of ostomy is wrong, the code for your diagnosis has a number missing…your insurance was not recorded or was recorded incorrectly, the doctor didn’t sign the note. Those things are minor and require a little detective work.  So if you have a request (claim) denied you may have to be a detective. You can speak with someone at the company who provides your supplies (ostomy supply distributor) and ask them to help you understand why your request (claim) was denied. Maybe together you can discover that a number was off or incomplete information was submitted.  Another example of an ostomate taking control of their healthcare is to not assume that your supplier has the proper documentation, but to ensure that your file at your supplier does include all of the necessary information. Ask your supplier for a copy of this documentation including prescriptions.

The same thing may be true with your doctor’s office, a request for supplies may have been denied because the information needed was not given to the insurance company or supply company. So then you need to speak with someone to discover what was missing. Sometimes the problem can be found, corrected and then the supply company can resubmit with positive results.

If you receive a denial, you have the right to appeal. The appeal usually has a time limit attached so follow the instructions for an appeal and respond that you want to appeal the denial.  If you have non-Medicare insurance you may be able to speak with someone at the insurance company about your denial to figure out why your request was denied as part of the appeal process. You may also contact your insurance customer service and request a case manager to assist with your supply denial.

If you have Medicare, for assistance you can contact your local representative from the  Beneficiary of Family Centered Care – Quality Improvement Organization (BFCC-QIO) or call 1-800-MEDICARE to help you understand the appeal process and determine what is still missing from your record. Your supply company may also be able to help you.

Do You Know What’s in Your Medical Records?

You have a right to request a copy. In 1996 the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) was passed. It is the law that protects patients’ health information from being shared with only those who have a need to know. It also states that patients are allowed access to their health records.  Your medical record is not just your doctor’s office records, it includes hospital, nursing home, or home health agency (HHA) records, and records from other healthcare professionals including, but not limited to, nurses, therapists, and social workers. Here is a great video example of advocating for yourself and knowing what’s in your record.

Each state has its own laws about what is required to get copies of your medical records. Check with your medical provider/facility for their policy on obtaining your medical records.

Conclusion

To avoid claim denials, long appeal processes, costs to you, or the possibility of not receiving your ostomy supplies, you need to make sure that:

  1. Your supplier is submitting correct information and up to date medical records to your insurance company (or Medicare); and
  2. Your physician keeps up-to-date medical records about your health, your ostomy and your supplies in your medical record.

Just recently ostomy advocate Megan, The Front Butt YouTuber, tweeted, “Currently going through some of my medical records. Found several pieces of misinformation, which I cleared up in visits and it was marked incorrectly. Yet, they are still present on my record. Again, patients are NOT being listened to.” (9/4/18 Twitter) Kudos to her for taking an active role in her healthcare, and going through her medical records. Self-advocacy is ongoing and no doubt she will be bringing this up again until it is CORRECT!

Remember that you have the right to change physicians and the right to change your ostomy supply company if they are not working with you.

It’s time to take control of your health. You deserve high-quality care.

By Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager

The overall goal of the UOAA Patient Bill of Rights (PBOR) initiative is to ensure high quality of care for people who had or will have ostomy or continent diversion surgery. To accomplish this it’s important that patients and families actively participate in patient health care.

According to CMS an integral part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) National Quality Strategy is the CMS Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program. It is one of the largest federal programs dedicated to improving health quality at the community level.

Under the QIO program there are two Beneficiary and Family Centered Care-QIOs (BFCC-QIOs) who help Medicare beneficiaries and their families exercise their right to high-quality healthcare. The two BFCC-QIOs are KEPRO and Livanta and they serve all fifty states. BFCC-QIO services are free-of-charge to Medicare beneficiaries.

Depending on where you live (Locate your BFCC-QIO) they are available to help Medicare beneficiaries and their families or caregivers with questions or concerns such as:

• Am I ready to be discharged from the hospital?
• Should I be receiving needed skilled services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, from a home health agency, skilled nursing facility, or comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility? (Care from a certified ostomy nurse is a skilled service.)
• I’m concerned about the quality of care I received from my hospital, doctor, nurse or others.
Examples of quality of care concerns that pertain to our PBOR include but are not limited to:
• Experiencing a change in condition that was not treated (such as skin infection around stoma)
• Receiving inadequate discharge instructions (such as inadequate individual instruction in ostomy care, including the demonstration of emptying and changing pouch or no instruction on how to order ostomy supplies when you leave the hospital)

*Why should Medicare Beneficiaries contact their BFCC-QIO with concerns?

First, BFCC-QIOs can help when you have a concern about the quality of the medical care you are receiving from a healthcare facility (e.g. hospital, nursing home, or home health agency) or professional. You can also file a formal Medicare complaint through your BFCC-QIO.

Furthermore, according to CMS, when Medicare beneficiaries share their concerns with their BFCC-QIO, they help identify how the health care system can better meet the needs of other patients. Beneficiary experiences, both good and bad, give the QIO Program the perspective to identify opportunities for improvement, develop solutions that address the real needs of patients, and inspire action by health professionals. This is what we are working towards achieving with our PBOR initiative. This is a resource to help the UOAA community make this happen.

Last, Medicare beneficiaries have the right to file an appeal through their BFCC-QIO, if they disagree with a health care provider’s decision to discharge them from the hospital or discontinue services, or when they have a concern about the quality of the medical care they received from a health care professional or facility.

*When and who should Medicare Beneficiaries contact?

A Medicare beneficiary can call 1-800-MEDICARE or your Local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) if he or she:

• Has general questions about Medicare coverage;
• Needs clarification on how to enroll in Medicare;
• Wishes to discuss billing issues.

A beneficiary can contact their BFCC-QIO if he or she:

• Needs to discuss the quality of care received;
• Wants to file a formal quality of care complaint; or
• Needs help to understand his or her Medicare rights.

While BFCC-QIOs are the primary point of contact for Medicare beneficiaries and their families, when necessary, quality of care complaints can also still be made by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.

For those interested in learning more about what to do if you have a concern about the care you received while on Medicare, please refer to this FAQs page produced by CMS.

Be involved in your healthcare and if you are a Medicare beneficiary, take advantage of this resource to self-advocate and ensure a better outcome for yourself.

*Source qioprogram.org