Aetna Made Me Cry


So Aetna made me cry today. It has been nearly two years since my last dental cleaning and exam- not because I don’t like going to the dentist but because I didn’t have a dentist to go to. When we moved cross country we tried to find a new dentist. I did my best to do some research online and find one who seemed local and accomplished and in-network. The first appointment wasn’t for me, it was for the Curmudgeonly Lion, and the experience was so bad ( and expensive) that we thought maybe it was easier to just fly back to Chicago twice a year to go to our old dentist that we liked. It was that bad and that expensive.

Then our old dentist back in Chicago stopped having time for us. It’s a lot harder to schedule an appointment six months out when you don’t really know when you will be coming into town. And it’s nearly impossible to get an appointment with anything less than six months of notice. So time went by and grad school happened and I just put it on the bottom of my to do list and put it off.

A month or so ago I started to notice some pretty significant stains on my teeth. And by “notice” I mean “obsess over”. Suddenly discovering patches of brown on your teeth is pretty compelling motivation for finally getting around to finding a dentist. The prospect of actually doing so, however, was so intimidating that I put it off from sheer stress for weeks. I didn’t know how to even begin to find a dentist that I’d like, who knew what they were doing, who accepted or insurance, etc. At last I let fate guide me: we got a promotional postcard in the mail from a local dentist so that was the dentist that I called.

Did they accept Aetna? Yes, they said that they did. I couldn’t remember if we had an HMO or a PPO. That didn’t seem to be a problem. There were appointments available within a week- and even options. Maybe this wasn’t so hard after all.

So I had my first appointment today. It was just an exam, not a cleaning- I had to schedule the cleaning for tomorrow, but that didn’t seem like a big deal. Oh, and my insurance information still had the old dentist listed on it: I would need to call Aetna and have them fax over some paperwork in order to get this office listed as my provider. No big deal.

I got home and made the call. Surely this wouldn’t be a problem: just a phone call. Ha. First, the lady on the line ( regrettably I didn’t get her name) told me that if I changed providers now I wouldn’t be able to see a dentist until November 1st: any changes made on or after the 15th wouldn’t go into effect until the next month. I told her that I already had an appointment. I was told that I would just have to reschedule it. If I needed to see a dentist right away I would have to go back to my old dentist. I explained, as patiently as I could, that our old dentist was in Chicago and we were now in California. Oh, well in that case she could transfer me over right away. She asked for the office identification number which I didn’t have so I gave her the name and address instead. I was told that the dentist was not an in-network provider. I would have to find another provider.

But, I said, I already have an appointment. They said that they accept my insurance.

No, they may accept Aetna but they’re not listed as being in- network for HMO providers. I’d just have to go someplace else, or else pay full price for services. And I’d need to be added to an in network providers roster of patients which wouldn’t happen until the 22nd so if I wanted to have an appointment before that I’d have to ask for exception.

By this time I was watching every single thing that I’d feared about this process of finding a dentist come true. The stupid circular bureaucracy spun between arbitrary dates in the calendar and official categorizing that defying all known logic and explanation. I broke down in tears. One routine call to the insurance provider and I was in Fucking. Tears.

The woman on the phone said she could email me a list of in network providers in my area if I wanted. I didn’t want. I just wanted to get my teeth cleaned and be done with it, but I said yes anyway. The woman took my email address and sent the list. I opened it hopelessly- the names and addresses were all but meaningless to me. I’d have just as good of luck finding a quality provider by throwing darts at it as by reading it. She asked if there was anything else I needed assistance with. I said there wasn’t. She asked if I wanted to do a survey about my experience. I said that I didn’t. I wasn’t going to be able to say anything nice and I was pretty sure there wasn’t going to be an option of: “it left me in tears”.

I hung up.

I stared at the list of providers for a while. It looked like this was going to be my new task for the day. After a minute of glassy- eyed staring, it occurred to me to look and see if the dentist that I’d just gone to was actually on the list after all. It was. It took me less than half a minute to find the listing.

That Fucking Bitch.

I called Aetna back. I got a different representative this time and I wasn’t sure if I was glad or sorry because I sure as hell had a few things to say to the last one. I gave her the office provider number and she switched our information I the system and faxed the info to the office. It took about five minutes and no-one had to cry. I filled out the survey for her.

If it was this difficult to do a single, simple task with a insurance company, how difficult must it be for someone who is actually sick? No wonder the healthcare system is in such dire straits.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on October 15, 2015.

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