Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Navigating the Medicare Nightmare

What is Medicare?

This is one of the hardest blog topics thus far. This topic of Medicare is so complicated and this topic could go on forever. I have summarized the information that I feel will help others understand the in’s and out’s of Medicare, which is very difficult for those in need of health care.

Many folks think Medicare is for those 65 or older. When in fact it also includes those deemed disabled, and includes individuals under 65 with certain disabilities. Additionally those people of any age with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). It is based on Federal and state laws, and national coverage decisions are made by Medicare as to if something is covered or not. For me personally, I qualified, even though I am 37, for SSDI, which automatically provides me with Medicare.

When I went to sign up for Medicare two years ago I thought it would be a simple process! I was wrong. I actually spent about a month researching and figuring out what would be the best advantage plan (I will discuss this definition); including the costs of all 17 of my medications! Discussion of the basic definitions and parts of Medicare is provided below.

So let us start with the basic aspects of Medicare and the coverage’s included. Medicare consists of four parts, Medicare A, B, C, and D.

Medicare Part A: Hospital Insurance helps to cover:
Inpatient care in hospitals; Skilled nursing facility care; Hospice care; and Home health care

Medicare Part B: Medical Insurance helps to cover:
Services considered medically necessary to treat and diagnosis disease or illness. This could include lab tests, doctor’s visits, surgeries, and durable medical supplies such as a wheelchair.

Under this section of Medicare, preventative services are included. I have found that Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans encourage the use of these services, and many plans include these services at no cost as long as you find a health care provider who accepts costs. Some of the preventative services include (this list is brief): flu shots; breast cancer screening; cervical and vaginal cancer screening; colorectal screening; depression screening; and diabetes screening. Under Part B, diabetes self-management, and diabetes supplies are included.

Additionally Part B pays for inpatient hospital care; including mental health inpatient; outpatient and partial hospitalization. Limited outpatient prescription drugs are included as well.

Medicare Part C: Medicare Advantage Plans
This is the part, for me found very confusing, and what I referenced above as taking me a month to research. This is where Medicare Advantage Plans come into play. Medicare approved private insurance companies run these plans. The benefits of these companies include Part A and B, with the option to pick up Part D, which is the prescription drug coverage. With these plans, there are many different policies so this is where the dreaded decision comes as to whether one wants a supplemental plan such as a HMO, PPO, PFFS, Medigap, and others. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan or other Medicare plan, you may have different rules, but your plan must give you at least the same coverage as Original Medicare.

Some services may only be covered in certain settings or for patients with certain conditions, and on top of the regular cost of Part A and B Medicare premiums, there is an extra cost. Medicare Advantage Plans are from some of the same companies that group employee and private individual plans pay for. Some of these are Humana; Care First; Anthem; Blue Cross Blue Shield, these are just some examples. Additionally plan coverage is based on place of residency. Companies in each state that process claims for Medicare make local coverage decisions.

Medicare Part D: Prescription Drug Coverage

The Medicare approved private insurance companies that include Part D, the prescription drug coverage, run similar to Part C. You can pick this Medicare part up by itself or most Advantage Plans include it when you pay out of pocket. Under this part additional drug coverage is provided, and aids to help lower prescription costs. I would like to note, Original Medicare only provides standard Medicare Part A and B, with limited prescription coverage. For me I’m on a Medicare Advantage Plan, which includes Part D, the prescription plan as well, and helps enormously with out of pocket prescription costs, being that I’m on 17 medications.

I know I know your heads are probably spinning. I do not understand how this country’s biggest health plan, is so confusing to understand and difficult with all its twists and turns. Luckily, for me I am “with it” enough to go online and research the Advantage Plans for extra help with my enormous medical and prescription costs. For those who are elderly and severely disabled, I have found that there is not a lot of local help to help navigate this steep path.

Lastly, the most important thing I will mention, upon deciding on a Medicare plan make sure the Medicare plan covers what you need. Talk to your doctor or health care provider to make sure your coverage includes their services. Also, discuss with them what services or supplies they will not cover. You can also call Medicare directly to ask about specific procedures and services. Below are some resources to help you getting started on your quest to navigate through the Medicare system, or prepare you for future use.

Resources to help get some additional information and questions answered

Direct Medicare Help
TTY 1-877-486-2048

Social Security Administration
TTY 1-800-325-0779

Friday, October 5, 2012

Relief Is On Its Way: Initial Diagnosis Part 1

On average, there is an eight-year lag between a first episode of depression or manic symptoms and the first time the disorder is diagnosed and treated (Goodwin & Jamison; Lewis 2000).

Usually individual’s first stop is to their primary care physician. While some physicians’ have a little experience treating psychological issues, their primary role is for regular medical issues that are not emotional in nature.  Psychiatrists really are the type of medical doctor that specifically and solely deal with mental and emotional issues.

It has been my experience from discussing this topic with others, that their primary care physicians more frequently prescribe Prozac whenever a patient complains of depression. Their repertoire usually does not include a supplementary understanding of additional medications like anti-depressants and especially mood stabilizers!

What happens upon making that initial appointment to see a psychiatrist? For me it was fear… a “what happens from here on?” kind of feeling. This is what I have found and still find the most important piece of the puzzle, of getting your life back on track. Something I will call “the discovery.”

Nobody jumps up and down when they are first diagnosed with a mental or psychiatric illness. Personally, for me I went through the, shock, blame, anger, and acceptance phases’ sort of equivalent to the stages of loss. I thought my life was over and I could see no light at the end of the tunnel. Even now after 15 years, that light comes and goes!

The average person diagnosed with bipolar disorder experiences four episodes per year during the first 10 years of the illness.  Like any mental illness, there are no limits to who will acquire a diagnosis. Old or young, female or male, rich or poor, etc.

One fact I found very fascinating is men tend to start in the mania phase while woman tend to start initial diagnosis in the depressed phase! Note to person’s with bipolar, woman are not the only dramatic ones!

For me, I feel the bipolar diagnosis is much more stigmatizing than depression. I cannot tell you how many folks, who do not know about my bipolar, will make comments like “that person is so wacko, she is bipolar,” or “you never can predict if he is going to be unstable”! It is easier I think to understand “being depressed,” that usually equates to a low or sad mood. However, for those who don’t understand it “bipolar” means folks are all over the place, up and down.

 So after you get the courage to make that initial appointment to see a psychiatrist, make sure you feel comfortable with him or her.  This is where the discussion regarding treatment and medication begins. From experience with various psychiatrist’s I have found that the same steps take place. Initially, the psychiatrist sits down to discuss what brought you to him or her. I have found as if this is almost like a job interview. Your road to recovery needs to happen in an environment that will help you progress further. I can vouch. I have had really great, intelligent, warm, and non-arrogant psychiatrists’, and I have had intelligent rude psychiatrists. It is hard sometimes to decided, do you want smart with no interpersonal skills, or a more caring one not as informed. It is your call. Yes, I know this does not make the choice easier.

The psychiatrist usually wants to get an idea of what brought you into the office. What symptoms have you been experiencing that is so difficult that you feel medication might be useful? In addition, the doctor probably will discuss your life from birth to present age. This takes place to see if there has been a pattern and/or how long your symptoms have been in existence.

So have your medical history available, with current and past doctor’s information in the case the psychiatrist needs to discuss other medical issues. As well as past medication use, for any other health reason.

This topic could go on and on. I have chosen to end it here and write a second part to this later. More along the lines of “what continuous care” looks like after the initial psychiatric visit. Please provide comments for those going through this difficult time in their lives!