Some insurance companies recently started sending notifications about patient care. For example, one recently sent my boss a letter about one of his patients with rheumatoid arthritis, asking why the patient is not on a disease modifier. There is an invitation to explain why by ticking any one of several boxes. Is the patient perhaps not compliant? Did the patient discontinue the medication against the doctor’s advice? Has the patient passed away? Does the patient not have rheumatoid arthritis?

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the insurance company decided that they would start doing this! This must impose a financial burden on the insurer, one that I cannot imagine they take on out of sheer altruism. What is the end game? What do they do with this information? Will they hold this information against the patient somehow, raise their premium in the next enrollment period? Or hold it against the physician, perhaps ding their reimbursement or use the information to include or exclude physicians from their panels?

When I decided to come to the United States, one of the biggest draws was the availability of health insurance. Most of my medical school education came from American textbooks, after all, so I thought it would be fabulous to be able to practice medicine the way it should be practiced because insurance will pay for it. (I know I sound like your elderly aunt that likes to repeat herself, but if you have not read any of my columns before, I come from the Philippines where health care is mostly paid for out of pocket, so how we treated patients was severely limited by how much the patient could afford.) I was wrong. I had no idea that part of my job description would include having to ask a corporate entity’s permission to administer treatments.

My boss replied to the letter. He said: “Patient is on dialysis and cannot be on methotrexate. He was prescribed a biologic, but your insurance does not cover its cost sufficiently to make it affordable. We had obtained the biologic through foundation support, but they ran out of money. So when you send out a letter like this blaming either the patient or MD for a compliance issue, I urge you to do some soul-searching.”

Dr. Chan practices rheumatology in Pawtucket, R.I.

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