//Health risks of open enrollment

Health risks of open enrollment

My blood pressure and sleep cycle took a serious hit last night, and it wasn’t my cancer acting up.

I was online researching the details of my 2018 health plan.  I had already made my selection during Open Enrollment–only one plan met my needs. I  was digging deeper into my 2018 coverage for more major changes–like my copay for medical visits jumping from $15 to 10%. I had to search for a link, that wasn’t at all obvious; finally I found “Annual Enrollment has Closed. View your future coverage” and clicked.

Much to my surprise, Boeing’s benefits website said I had chosen a new 2018 health plan.  A quick review of terms showed it didn’t cover my Colorado clinical trial!

My heart rate shot up.  My throat got tight.  My breathing accelerated. That trial has kept me alive for five years and counting, and provided my expensive targeted therapy drug for FREE.  Another clinical trial is my best hope for staying alive when this cancer drug fails me (as it is likely to do); both ROS1 trials and ROS1 expert oncologists are virtually non-existent in my home state of Washington. My Colorado oncologist is among the handful of world experts in my type of cancer and has access to all the ROS1 clinical trials.  If I didn’t have access to out-of-state experts at academic cancer centers, my hopes of long-term survival were greatly diminished.  It would be bigly expensive to pay for out-of-state medical care personally–about $10K for each clinic visit that included a scan.

Hubby wasn’t home and not available by phone, so I texted a couple of fellow patient advocates and snuggled kitties to calm myself until I could think things through.

Could it be a glitch in Boeing’s benefits website?  I had a message on file from Boeing saying I would have the same health plan unless I directed them to change my plan.  Yet when I clicked on that link ‘view your future coverage” link I was in a different health plan that only had access to selected clinics near Seattle, not the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBSIL) national network I’d been in for years.

Did I click on the wrong button during open enrollment? My brain doesn’t remember things as well as it did BC (before cancer), but I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen a screen that said anything like “confirm your change in healthcare plan.”

Might Boeing take pity on a metastatic cancer patient with chemobrain and allow me to change my plan, if indeed I’d chosen the wrong plan?  A fellow metastatic lung cancer patient said her plan allowed her to make a change after open enrollment closed when she realized she’d missed the deadline. I certainly hoped Boeing would be equally understanding if I’d made a mistake.

Alas, I couldn’t take any action last night, as Boeing Benefits was closed for the day. My only option was to call first thing in the morning.

I had a bad night.

Fortunately, this morning Boeing Benefits confirmed they had misleading info on their website.  I still have my excellent BCBSIL coverage for 2018. I can continue in my clinical trial and have most of my medical expenses covered.

Whew!

However, I suspect this is not the last such panic I will experience.  I suspect we chronically and seriously ill patients in the USA will be facing more insurance-related shocks over the next several years.

Last year, several friends who are self-employed cancer patient/advocates on Affordable Care Act plans discovered their longtime oncologists at academic cancer centers were no longer covered by any plan on the ACA.  This year, another cancer patient discovered their health plan’s 2018 formulary dropped their expensive, life-saving targeted therapy cancer drug (which costs upwards of $10,000 per month in the US).  Uncertainty in the insurance market and proposed changes in subsidies and and the tax code threaten to drive up insurance costs even faster.  As insurers leave the market, some patients can no longer find plans in their geographic area that cover their needs.

And, when I turn 65 in a few years and become eligible for Medicare, Boeing will no longer provide health coverage for me (that’s another long story). I’ll have to change to a far more expensive and less comprehensive Medicare plan–assuming Medicare is still around.

“Who knew healthcare was so complicated?” Ask any patient with serious health conditions.

As more patients lose healthcare coverage options, the healthcare system may have to add a new code: Death from  health insurance changes.