Remembering the Mean Girls

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In Fall 2010, about 150 health advocates, many of whom were just considering entering the profession, convened in Washington DC for the Second Annual NAHAC Conference. I was there at the invitation of NAHAC, to both be a vendor, and to give a presentation about marketing for advocates. The conference was a resounding success in my estimation, using my two conference-success measuring sticks: 1. I met so many smart, wonderful, passionate people and 2. I learned so much more than I imparted.

But there was one aspect to the conference that left a bad taste in my mouth, marring the experiences of too many, and lighting a fire under me.

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The Two Pieces of Advice You Will Ignore – Until You Are Burned

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charredConsider these scenarios:

  • Scenario #1. Jane calls you, in a panic. Her mother, age 88, who lives in your city, has fallen at her nursing home. Mother Frederick has been hospitalized, but Jane can’t get there until late tomorrow and wonders if you would be willing to help her mother until Jane can get there. Of course you can! This is the very reason you are an advocate.
    (Alternatively, Jane asks you to review her mother’s medical bills because she’s afraid her mother’s insurance isn’t covering everything it needs to cover. You, as a medical billing specialist, agree eagerly to help out.)
  • Scenario #2. You’re so excited!  You’ve just learned about patient advocacy as a profession and you know it’s a perfect way for you to make some extra money.  So you start asking your friends if they like the idea – they all do – they think it’s a great idea!  You sit down and do the math…  and decide that yup – let’s go – I’m going to be a patient advocate!  You find your first client, Mr. Howard, and you help him to the max! He is thrilled with the work you did for him.  You know you’ve made the right choice. Patient advocacy is for you.
  • Question #1:  Do you see yourself in either scenario?

So let’s continue….

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Be Bold! Like Wearing Pants to School

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OK – despite the fact that I know you can do the math, I will set the stage for this blog post with a true confession… I graduated from high school in 1969.

So you can imagine I was interested in this post on Mashable called October 1969 Hippie High School.

Now, granted, the photos were taken 4 months later in time (I graduated in June) But still – there is something about these photos that isn’t immediately identifiable today as a BIG DEAL.

But it was a big deal. At the time it was HUGE. That is, some of the girls were wearing PANTs to school.

For some of you who are younger (like, the vast majority of you, I expect) – you can’t imagine that wearing pants to school was a big deal, can you? So I’m going to tell you a story.

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Sorry. That’s Not Good Enough

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scoldingwomanOne of the most visible changes in the new health insurance reality are the medical bill surprises people are receiving that they never received before, for services covered previously as a matter of course. You know – whereas their insurance automatically approved a CT scan for purpose X in the past, now patients need pre-approval. Without that pre-approval, payment for that CT scan comes out of their own pockets – totally unexpected and usually very expensive.

Most of us learn the hard way that we need to get permission for many of the services that used to be automatically approved. I know I did. About two years ago I received the full billing ($350) for my annual trip to the dermatologist. I had been referred by my primary, the check-up was a covered benefit, but because I hadn’t gotten it approved ahead of time, I received the bill, and was told I was responsible, for the full ride.

I was stunned! And angry, too…. When I called my insurer, the customer service rep told me that was their new policy, and I was out of luck; there was nothing she could do to help me. When I asked when the rule had changed, she told me she wasn’t really sure. When I asked why I had never been notified, she said she didn’t know… Bottom line, I got NO information from her. I finally asked to speak to a supervisor who was even less helpful – until I told her I would be in touch with the state insurance department. Only then did she say she might be able to help me sort out the billing. Eventually they did cover the cost of my appointment – because they couldn’t prove to me that I had ever been notified of the change in policy.

I’m not going to lament here the fact that it seems like nothing can be done by customer service these days without threatening them first. Instead let’s look at some lessons for advocates; that is, that when we know we need something, or when we are stonewalled, the only real answer is “that’s not good enough.”

I raise it today because it almost happened again last month, as follows:

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A New Year, and the Responsibility of Potential

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potential“Happy New Year to you and much happiness and success in 2015!”… You know that all business conducted by email or holiday card during the past few weeks has ended with just that greeting – or variations on that theme.

It can be the hollowest of greetings – not that you don’t really wish the person you’re writing to success and happiness – of course you do! But usually when we add it to a casual correspondence because it’s easy, it’s simply cordial – a good ending – without much thought to what’s behind it.

But this holiday season, I’ve actually put quite a bit of thought into that closing statement, for reasons I will share with you here, because I think they could have a positive effect on your work, and a ripple effect, then, on your own level of happiness and success – and your CLIENTS’ levels of happiness and success, not just in 2015, but for years to come.

Here’s why: In the span of three days, I learned of three friends – good friends, people I care about or work closely with – who suffered / are suffering major medical circumstances.  One died within two weeks of a totally unexpected, practically symptomless diagnosis. Two were given devastating diagnoses and are undergoing very difficult treatments. I also heard from a handful of friends, including APHA members, whose families suffered truly tragic circumstances or news… I began to feel like that proverbial camel, just waiting for more straws.

I reacted just as many of us do; it’s this kind of news that makes me sad, so sad, at first. Whereupon I quickly transition to where I realize how important it is to LIVE life, not just slog through it. Setting aside the somedays and grabbing the bull by the horns today – right now. Doing what we love, what makes our souls sing, the reason we jump out of bed in the morning in anticipation of another incredible day. Today.

Within my thought process is that fact that this is where YOU and I – uniquely – have the opportunity to respond to this kind of stimulus so much more vigorously than others…  Continue Reading →

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