It Was the Best of Days and the Worst of Days
Last Wednesday, January 6 2016, was a day I will not forget any time soon. It was a day that showed me the worst of our healthcare system but also the best. The week prior, a new patient enrolled with us online. His name was not one that was familiar to me. We scheduled him for a full checkup the next week. Patient X is a 29 year old male chef that found me online because he had no health insurance and was looking for an affordable entryway into our healthcare system. He had applied for Medicaid but was waiting on confirmation. He is a hard working, honest guy that could not afford to purchase any of the “affordable Obamacare plans” on the exchange. Luckily, he did qualify for subsidies to get MassHealth but he was not confirmed at the time of our visit. For this, I will thank Obamacare. It is not bad in every way.
After my nurse put him in the exam room and got some information on him she came back to my office to tell me about the multitude of symptoms he had been having for the past 4-6 months. These symptoms had worsened over the past few weeks and finally prevented him from working. These symptoms included left sided headache with blurred vision in his left eye, bilateral hip pain, back pain, some weight loss, and an enlarging lump in his testicle which he attributed to an enlarging benign cyst that was diagnosed by another physician years prior. Clearly he was anxious and you know what? So was I.
As I entered the exam room I was greeted by a tall, slender and very personable young guy. We walked through the details of his symptoms and the time course. I encouraged him to relax and take his time since with Direct Care there is happily no more rushing through the mill. Needless to say his story was very concerning to me and it was amazing to me that this guy was able to perform labor up until two weeks prior, especially since the pain was keeping him up at night. After his history, I conducted a thorough head to toe exam. He only had minimal neurologic findings. When he was lying down so I could examine his abdomen I could see a large left sided mass in his groin under his shorts. Sadly, all the worst-case scenarios that were running through my head were now close to being confirmed. As he stood up and lowered his shorts I was presented with the culprit- a large left sided testicular mass with swollen nodes in his groin- i.e. it had already spread and now I was concerned that all his other symptoms were manifestations of the same. This was not an easy conversation to have but I sat with him and relayed my concerns.
So the first worst part of the day was seeing this guy suffer with awful symptoms for so long without engaging our system. Was it fear of illness that kept him away? Fear of cost? Denial? Truthfully it was probably a combination of all of the above. The hard part for me was seeing the regret on his face. I tried to reassure him that what is done is done and we can not go back in time, but that we need to deal with the here and now and move forward. And so we did.
So now for the best part of the day. Within 20 minutes our wonderful insurance broker, George Claassen, came over to the office to meet with Patient X and get his insurance confirmed, as I knew he would be heading for extensive and expensive treatment- the stuff for which insurance should be used. While he met with George, I was on the phone with a great local urologist who agreed to see the patient that afternoon and was willing to do a cash price for him if needed. Following his visit the patient called me and told me it was advised that he would need CAT scans the next day prior to urgent surgery that was scheduled for Friday AM. Thank god we got him on insurance right?
That is until he told me that his new Medicaid plan would not cover the CAT scans- CAT scans ordered by a specialist with years of experience that is CONTRACTED with MassHealth!- the second worst part of the day. He was told by the schedulers at the hospital that the order needed to come from a MassHealth PCP! What planet am I on? A specialist nor an MD who diagnosed his condition can’t order an outpatient scan because of what?… Bureaucracy of course. I will not bore you with more details as the situation ended up working out and he got his scans the next day- which sadly showed spread of disease to bone, brain, nodes etc- and he had surgery last Friday. He is now in the hospital with a long arduous road ahead while he awaits chemotherapy. His pain is under better control and all we can do now is hope that his strong constitution and will to get better will guide him to being fully cured. But did he really need the two hours of aggravation after being told he had bad disease?
So like I said…it was the best of days and the worst of days all wrapped into one. It glaringly showed the positives and negatives of our system in the USA. All I hope for is the “best of days” when I can say that Direct Primary Care- for 50$ a month- saved the life of a really nice, polite, hardworking, appreciative, 29 year old year guy. It is an honor to be his doctor.
Disclaimer: this was written with the patients consent and he approved its content prior to posting.