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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Help Me Not Be A Drain On Society

"…promote the general welfare…"

I’m not a constitutional scholar, and would never pretend to be, but as an American, whenever I think about the potential of the land of my birth, I go to the preamble to our Constitution. Those 52 words ratified 221 years ago hold great promise, neatly summarizing the goals of a new country.

The first four words of this post affect me more than any other. I’m employed in the healthcare industry. No, I’m not a doctor or other specific caregiver, as that would define me as "useful". I’m on the administrative side. I represent that portion of the American healthcare system that drains much-needed resources from things such as providing timely medical care to patients and educating the public on risks to health.

Without being too specific about my daily job functions (not that I’m hiding; hell my name is right there in my ID), I am a certified medical coder. As briefly as possible, I’ll try to describe what that is. Every medical test, service, procedure and patient condition has a numeric equivalent for governmental reporting and insurance billing. I’ve been trained to determine what numbers go where on which bill for which patient for what service or condition. For this, I make a healthy wage in a recession-proof industry.

I’m going to ask something of you that may come as a shock, but I’ll do it anyway.

As quickly as you can, please put me out of a job.

Though I do not work in a doctor’s office on a daily basis, trust me when I tell you that I’m on the front lines and the American healthcare system is broken. We need single-payer healthcare yesterday.

I started on the insurance side of this industry in 1989. I was a medical claims adjuster for a little over 6 years. The time I spent on that side of the fence gave me incredible insight into the mind of the person adjudicating your medical insurance claims. Specifically, some of these people really get their rocks off denying services. I wasn’t one of them. I can remember an instance where I was forced by the terms of a patient’s insurance policy to deny a $92,000 hospital bill for a 4-year-old girl with lymphoma. I also remember the hangover I had the next morning from trying to drink my guilt away.

"…promote the general welfare…"

I’ve had my share of stops in this industry. I now find myself on the physician side attempting to educate physicians and other practitioners on documentation for services. I feel that this only slightly helps the treatment outcomes for the patients. What I really feel is that I am employed as a defense mechanism against Medicare and insurance regulations designed not to compensate physicians for the fair value of their services. Meanwhile medical mistakes are on the rise in hospital settings, much-needed treatment is being withheld due to cost to insurers and the amount of a typical healthcare dollar spent on jobs like mine keeps going up.

I realize that I can’t speak for everyone in my sphere of the healthcare industry. I can only speak for myself when I tell all of you to put me out of work. I’ll find another job. I’m reasonably intelligent and have the innate survival skills to find something else to do with the 25 years (give or take) I have left in the working world. I can even write and sing a song or two. Who knows where that might lead?

A society that cares about the fate of all of their citizens would have moved to a single-payer healthcare system years ago (some enlightened countries have already). I currently exist as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with America’s approach to its own citizens. Do the country a favor and politely send me packing.

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