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15 July 2009
Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
The Emotional Burden of Procuring Medical Benefits

I have spent the majority of today shopping around for medical benefits for myself and my family. Only it wasn't very much like shopping; not at all. It was more like going through a divorce, or a death, or some other traumatic event that causes the rest of life to be put on hold while you do lots of typing, talking, researching, worrying, counseling, fretting, waiting anxiously, and spending money you didn't have to begin with.

Some of the other "required" industries (those things that everybody needs and has to have) have figured out how to actually be a positive experience in people's lives, like (in my opinion), the real estate, auto, and shopping industries. But the healthcare industry as it exists today...they know that you need them and therefore aren't all that concerned with simplifying the process or making it a pleasant experience anywhere along the way. Simply applying for benefits can nearly bring a person to tears. They scrutinize every aspect of your life and make summary judgments and assumptions about your future health, demand their giant premiums UP FRONT before they'll even CONSIDER approving you (don't worry! If you're denied, they'll return them to you as soon as they've earned a wee bit of interest off of your money!), and arbitrarily DENY you benefits on what I consider to be a discriminatory basis.

Take Assurant Health for instance ( NYSE:AIZ). Today I called them up to ask their help choosing a medical benefits plan that was right for my family and I. I spoke with a nice gentleman named Brian who graciously offered to walk me through the process. So he begins asking me the usual questions about mine and my wife's height and weight, our tobacco usage, and then about my dependents. My oldest son is 24 and autistic. I had the understanding that any dependent over the age of 18 had to have a good reason for being covered under my benefits, so I voluntarily told Brian that Joshua was autistic. There was a brief pause, and then a somber "oh no" that suddenly had me a bit worried. "What kind of autism is it?", Brian asked me, "can you tell me more about it?". Knowing full well that autism has no connection whatsoever with physical health, I volunteered "well, he's non-verbal". Before I could give him any more detail whatsoever Brian told me that I had been summarily judged and that Assurant would not be able to offer me medical benefits for my son. "But, we can proceed with adding your other dependents if you would like", he gleefully added. I had to laugh, and asked Brian to please help me understand the correlation that Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ)had made between AUTISM and PHYSICAL HEALTH.  He stammered a lot, and like most under-paid customer service reps do, retreated to the safety of his pre-written script, chanting it like a mantra in response to each of the analogies I drew and asked him to enlighten me about. In a nutshell, he hadn't a clue, nor was he ever once regretful, but staunchly stood his ground and told me repeatedly, "the Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ)underwriters will not approve dependents with autism".

Let me tell you, my son Joshua is as healthy as a horse, and among all his siblings doesn't get sick any more and probably even less. He's non-verbal, yes, but not one time in his 24 years on earth has that ever equated to an increased risk of contracting influenza, heart disease, cancer, or any other condition that would require tight fisted Assurant Health to outlay cash unecessarily. In a word, Assurant Health is blatantly discriminating against my son, and how can that be permitted in today's society? I wouldn't then be surprised at all if some of the screening questions Brian had not gotten to had to do with my family's eye color, hair styles, or preferred sock heights, as perhaps they may have managed to also draw correlations between THOSE unrelated facts and their risk of having to pay on a claim! Assurant Health, congratulations, you have joined the ranks of those corporations whom I consider to be guided and directed by individuals with a much less than average IQ, and I do not intend to stop calling you out publicly in every forum I have access to until you put an end to your corporate-supported discrimination. On my side is the fact that you are a publicly traded company, and I believe and hope that your "owners" will see my point of view and empathize completely.

Back to my original theme, though, then there's the whole process of actually trying to USE the benefits you pay so mightily for. Making your visit to the doctor, supplying your benefit card only to receive a bill for amounts that should have been taken care of by your provider, only they decided to judge the item "out of scope" and defer it back to you to pay. After taking precious time out of your life to show them obvious facts from their OWN POLICY, they concede that it's their responsibility and eventually pay it. In the meantime, your credit suffers while their slow motion bureaucratic gears leisurely fulfill the obligation you paid them to. Bah.

I'm very frustrated right now, completely drained mentally, and am out $468 while I wait to find out if the mildly retarded underwriter sitting comfortably in their air conditioned office at one of these monolithic conglomerates will be merciful enough to accept me into their broken system and add me to the masses who posess what amounts almost to vaporous benefits. In terms of monetary costs, costs in time, and pain and mental suffering, I do believe I'd almost be happier investing the time getting a degree in homeopathy and just leaving the whole Gordian mess behind. Unfortunately, on occasion I do need the medical expertise that exists out there, and since it's priced way beyond the reach of the average family, I have very few choices in the matter, as do we all.

I guess I have no solutions to offer, I just want to immortalize the discriminatory actions of good ol' Assurant Health against my autistic son, and to vent with the rest of my good citizens who I know are having to endure the same frustrations as myself. I do not believe that we should just accept it all because "that's the way it's always been", nor should we learn to be okay with it simply because it appears that we have no choices. Systems, like little children, will live up to the expectations placed upon them. Sometimes it takes a long time, but change can happen if enough people are consistent in the pressure they apply and the stands they take.

UPDATE

It's been about three weeks now since my highly unpleasant encounter with Assurant Health, whom I consider to be nothing short of blatantly discriminatory. I thought I'd let my readers know that I DID find a healthcare provider who was more than willing to insure my autistic son, no questions asked. In fact, it wasn't that hard to find...seems Assurant Health hasn't managed to infect all of the rest of the health care industry with their discriminatory practices after all. I hope that others like myself who have found themselves under Assurant's prejudiced magnifying glass will speak out and spread the word. Perhaps a little fiscal pressure may get them to reconsider what they're doing with regards to our autistic citizens. If not, then I hope perhaps public awareness will caluse them to slowly drown in red ink as their true nature is manifested and investors see them for what they are: purveyors of prejudice.

I also notice (from reviewing my site's activity logs) that Assurant Health themselves have been visiting this blog post, from their Minnesota and Milwaukee offices. Keywords they used to find my post were very specific, using phrases such as "Assurant Health denies autistic", and "assurant health autistic brian". Good. I hope they continue to spread the word around their virtual office. Perhaps whatever semblance of humanity resides within their managerial hierarchy will take it upon themselves to actually back me and suggest that perhaps equating non-physical handicaps with the potential of physical ailments is indeed absurd and discriminatory. Besides that, adding to a person's already stressful burden of shopping for health benefits should be something a company strives NOT to do, shouldn't it? Assurant made it clear to me and therefore the entire nation that they do NOT care what we think, and if we don't like being grilled and pressed and summarily judged, then we can just take our sorry arses right on down the street. 

Keep on reading, Assurant, cause I'm surely not going to stop writing.  




Posted by dougboude at 4:42 PM | PRINT THIS POST! |Link | 6 comments
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Re: Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
"Anybody have any ideas? :)"

Yes, socialized healthcare. Every American deserves access to quality health care regardless of any pre-existing conditions or ability to fend for themselves.

And sorry, I don't have any first hand experience with your situation so I don't have any immediately applicable ideas.
Posted by Anonymous on July 17, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Re: Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
Hey Doug, sorry it took me a bit to weigh in on this. I may post this to twitter or write my own blog entry about it tomorrow or so... in the meantime I wanted to let you know that I'm right there with you. The trust wanted me to get health insurance and it turned out that the only company that would cover me was Aetna apparently, but only if I wasn't currently in treatment for anything.

On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons for a health insurance company to handle autistic clients differently. Unfortunately what passes for psychological / neurological coverage is ridiculous... but that's also because unfortunately much of the psychological industry is still ridiculous. The AMA still not only allows, but condones and supports therapists who continue to use psychoanalytic techniques which have been proven bogus by rigorous scientific analysis. So for an insurance carrier to pay for psychoanalysis is in essence throwing their money in the toilet. But that's actually a whole other issue aside from the autism. I'm not sure about the non-verbal variety, like Kanner's Syndrome, but at least with Asperger Syndrome, lifetime health costs aren't just slightly elevated, they're 2x as high as for the general population. I suspect that a large amount of that cost is a direct result of the damaging physical effects of alienation, social anxiety and depression that come with having Asperger Syndrome. Unfortunately depression isn't just mental -- it really, literally damages the body, the same way a stab wound damages the body, it just lasts longer and it's not outwardly apparent. It also harms the brain, inhibiting neurogenesis (production of brain cells) in the hippocampus, leading to poorer memory function and lower scores on standardized IQ tests. And interestingly enough, it makes people accident prone as well, as a result of the depressed person's attention being distracted by the focus of said depression. You're walking down a hallway and because you're upset, you don't notice things on the floor in the hall that you would probably have noticed if you'd been in a good mood. So that may also result in a greater likelyhood of a trip to the ER. All of these effects are scientifically proven.

As I said, I don't know if that translates directly to people with non-verbal autism. I think non-verbal autistics tend to have less social anxiety, but I could be mistaken on that front. If they do have less social anxiety however, then it's reasonable to think that they also experience generally superior health when compared to people with AS (my category), HFA or PDD-NOS.

The insurance carriers still do need to change. There needs to be a good way for them to distinguish between effective psychological / neurological treatment and toilet-theories and a way for them to choose only to pay for tested, proven effective treatments. That may require some changes in our legal system, I'm not sure. They also need to provide coverage for people on the autistic spectrum and a way to get the people with the less obvious forms of autism like myself to experience less depression and as a result, have fewer health-care costs. It's actually not tremendously difficult to do this with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is thoroughly, rigorously scientifically proven -- it's simply that they haven't bothered to research it. And right now they really don't do more than pay lip-service to the idea of CBT because it falls under the umbrella of psychology, which they scarcely cover (but actually do have good reason for). There also needs to be an algorithm for them to distinguish risk based on a person's history -- which may have some technical limitations, since medical history isn't readily accessible to them and is covered by confidentiality / privacy law (HIPPA).

There are a lot of things that need to change in the autistic community (and in the health-care industry) and with time and a lot of help from people like you and I, they are changing. :)

Good luck!
Posted by ike on July 18, 2009 at 1:37 AM

Re: Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
Where's my help??? Where's my help??
Posted by Only in America on July 22, 2009 at 2:13 PM

Re: Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
It's been about three weeks now since my highly unpleasant encounter with Assurant Health, whom I consider to be nothing short of blatantly discriminatory. I thought I'd let my readers know that I DID find a healthcare provider who was more than willing to insure my autistic son, no questions asked. In fact, it wasn't that hard to find...seems Assurant Health hasn't managed to infect all of the rest of the health care industry with their discriminatory practices after all. I hope that others like myself who have found themselves under Assurant's prejudiced magnifying glass will speak out and spread the word. Perhaps a little fiscal pressure may get them to reconsider what they're doing with regards to our autistic citizens. If not, then I hope perhaps public awareness will caluse them to slowly drown in red ink as their true nature is manifested and investors see them for what they are: purveyors of prejudice.
Posted by dougboude on August 3, 2009 at 3:57 PM

Re: Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
Your post makes me glad I'm Canadian. In Canada, everyone is covered - even an elderly diabetic with leukemia gets free healthcare. It seems so backwards to deny health coverage to people more likely to need it.

And equating autism with being unhealthy doesn't make much sense, either. Your son might be more prone to injuries, depending on how safety-conscious he is. But being autistic doesn't mean he's unhealthy.
Posted by Ettina on October 6, 2010 at 10:20 AM

Re: Assurant Health (NYSE:AIZ) Denies Coverage Because Young Man is Autistic
1 question ? How were you out the $468 ? I thought I read your whole blog. I didn't see the expense of $468, nor why you paid that. Thank you for that clarification, please.
Posted by Thomas Brown on May 21, 2011 at 7:19 AM

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