Though I have full health care coverage, I had an issue while away from home and I experienced a little glimpse of the nightmare that health care can be while traveling.
I don’t usually cover specific personal experiences, but in this instance, I will share my own account of an event that happened to me. I have some good things to say about specific brands and some bad things to say as well. I haven’t been paid to say anything, I just want to share my experience for others.
Good Health Insurance
I have carried some version of Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance for the better part of the last decade. Due to my family, we carry close to the best coverage we can within the plans offered by an employer and have been happy with the experience and coverage. We have tested the extents of our coverage a few times and have always found the insurance to cover anything we encounter with fair prices and reasonably good customer service.
Unbearable Pain on a Trip
When I was around 16 year-old I began to develop stress ulcers in my throat while I was managing some particularly difficult challenges. A few months ago I transitioned jobs and it was a very stressful time. Contracts, lawyers, selling a house, buying a house, replacing a vehicle… it brought the ulcer back, this time in the back of my throat.
While the early signs felt like a sore throat (it had been almost two decades since I’d had an ulcer), I was away from home but in the US when I discovered it. The ulcer grew from a small pain to unbearable and nearly half an inch in length. That may seem small, but given the moisture in one’s throat, air flow from breathing drying it out – there’s just constant pain that extends beyond swallowing and it’s nearly unavoidable.
Before I realized that it was a return of the ulcer, I sought help at an Urgent care facility which provided me with some pain relief and a solution to coat and seal the ulcer for a period of time before reapplying. My insurance covered it and the prescriptions at very little cost.
However, the ulcer was only getting larger. The medicines were simply treating the pain and symptoms but not solving the issue. My mother, who was with us at the time, is a dental hygenist and knew of a new use of laser technology to treat mouth ulcers by scoring the surface causing it to close and heal faster.
I found a handful of dental facilities in the Fort Myers area that offered the service but very few could get me in on short notice. All of them were happy to work with my insurance without incident.
The Used Car Dealership of Dental Care
I found Bonita Dental Care of Bonita Springs, FL, about 10 minutes south of Fort Myers. They had the availability on short notice, indicated they would accept my insurance and got me in within a day. I showed up delighted, filled out the paperwork and got back into the chair where a dental assistant and then a dentist examined the ulcer and agreed it could be treated.
Then something unexpected occurred. The “Business Manager” for the facility came in and began asking me where I worked which I answered assuming it related to my insurance as a new patient. Several other questions that identified I was in a tough position (am I on vacation, how bad is the pain, etc.), had the means to pay and was in a critical enough position to do so, formed the basis of our discussion.
She indicated that they could provide the service and provide a relief to the pain (nothing short of excuciating at that point) for the low, low price of $2800 in cash. Flabbergasted, I indicated I had insurance and was certain they would cover it. She didn’t want to file it with my insurance because she kept avoiding the issue and suggesting they wouldn’t cover it then circling back and discounting the offer price.
Finally, she pulled the ultimate used car move but instead of “talking to her manager” she talked to the dentist. She came back with a big red “X” through the $2800 price and dropped it $2200. I asked for my wife to come through to “help me with the decision” when in reality, I wanted her to see the railroading for herself.
When she saw what was happening and how they were taking advantage of my situation, she indicated that we wouldn’t be doing that. She stepped away for another minute and came back with a final number closer to $1500 out-of-pocket on the spot and refused to use my insurance. I left Bonita Dental and their crazy tactics behind.
When I got home to my actual dentist, they took my insurance and did the service on the spot with nothing more than a $20 co-pay. The reality was that the procedure usually costs just a couple of hundred dollars out of pocket (I shopped it), my insurance company would have paid less than that because they receive wholesale rates and the dentist and business manager knew I was in pain and would likely pay.
Despite having excellent health care coverage, travelling even domestically can still present challenges for treatment. It was disheartening that a business focused on care would care so little. I can only imagine how challenging and budget-busting health care needs must be for those without coverage.
Do you have a horror story from an insurance need while travelling?