Friday, June 20, 2008


Sometimes my job duties entail ignoring poignant emotional triggers. I need to keep a cool head when telling a pregnant woman that she has no maternity coverage. I need to sound positive and helpful to a person needing referral to a substance abuse inpatient facility. I can emote in a controlled manner, for the benefit of either enhancing customer experience or to convey empathy. Insurance is not charity, it is a profitable business with many stipulations for coverage. The mind of a customer service representative can do incredible back flips in rationalizing the limits of most policies, but occasionally something turns up and stands your justifications on end.
Today I received such a call, from a terminal cancer patient. He was not even retirement age, and looking down a hallway at death while his oncologists bought him more time with chemotherapy. We are not paying for some kind of tracking procedure, having deemed it experimental. I can read the complicated medical policy behind this denial, but it is almost too technical to understand, much less explain to an anxious, intelligent, understandably incredulous cancer patient who wants to know why we will pay for chemo but not the system to track its progress.
We danced around with each other a bit, and I could tell my attempts at rationalizing were useless. After explaining his appeal rights, and fumbling through his hospice inquiries, emotion welled up, and I simply told him, "I want this to go smoothly for you." I explained my own familiarity with the ins and outs of navigating chemo and insurance and billing and procedures, and his tone softened. We are members in a club no one wants to belong to. Of course I got out; my experience completely different because I knew I would survive the disease. Cancer will claim him, and I want him to have as gentle a passage is possible…
Tears came when I hung up. The tears surprised me- but they were comforting as well as disconcerting. They embodied the shared bitterness, the ethereal nature of being, the power of hope and the weight of its absence.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?