I had a very disturbing conversation with a physician who is employed by an insurance company last week.
I admitted a patient in the hospital for very clear-cut reasons. She is one of my few non-compliant patients, doing none of the strategies I advocate–no fish oil, no vitamin D, no correction of her substantial lipoprotein abnormalities, not even medication. Much of this was because of difficult finances, some of it is because she is from the generation (she is in her late 70s) that tends to ignore preventive health, some of it is because she is a kind of happy-go-lucky personality. So her disease has been progressive and, now, life-threatening, including an abdominal aneurysm near-bursting in size (well above the 5.5 cm cutoff). The patient is also a sweet, cuddly grandmother. I have a hard time bullying nice little old ladies.
While she was in the hospital, the social worker told me that her case was being reviewed by her insurer and would likely be denied. Their medical officer wanted to speak to me.
So the medical officer called me and started asking pointed questions. “Why did you do that test? You know that she’s not been compliant. Are you sure you want to do that? I don’t think that’s a good idea.” In other words, this was not just a review of the case. This was an opportunity for the insurance company to intervene in the actual care of the patient.
Then the kicker: “Have you considered not doing anything and . . . just letting nature take its course?”
At first, I was stunned. “You mean let the patient die?”
Expressed in such blatant terms, while he was trying to be diplomatic, made him back down. “Well, uh, no, but she is a high-risk patient.”
Anyway, this was the first instance I’ve encountered in which the insurance company is not just in the business of reviewing a case, but actually trying to intervene during the hospital stay, to the point of making the ultimate healthcare cost savings: Letting the patient die.
Unfortunately, never having had an experience like this before, I did not think to record the conversation or take notes. I am wondering if this is an issue to be taken up by the Insurance Board . . . or is this a taste of things to come as the health insurers fall under increasing pressure with the legislative changes underway?
Change your life in 60 seconds