Friday, August 5, 2011

The Customer is Always Right?

We don't often talk about our insulin pumps, but every now and then something brilliant or frustrating happens and it shows up on the blog. Jenn has written about her experience with the Dexcom pump. I have written about what I wish Minimed would do with their Carelink software. Jenn began a draft post that has been waiting to be finished for about 2 months now, titled "3 more reasons I'm in LOVE with the Dexcom." (Yes, Jenn, that was me trying to provoke you to finish your posts.)

At the risk of starting a Minimed v. Dexcom war, I thought I would devote this post to what I like about Minimed. For starters, it seems like they really understand what it's like from my perspective. They really get it: not just diabetes the disease and diabetes supplies, but what it's like to be a diabetic.

When I first explored pumps in the fall of 2008, I signed up for a Minimed pump at the recommendation of my doctor. The Minimed representative was crucial to getting my insurance company on board to pay for it. When he called, he made sure we spoke on the phone (no voicemail left at 10:04 am on my home phone - he called me at work like I asked him to). He did all the legwork with my doctor's office. I even got the sense that when I faxed him the paperwork with my signatures, he was waiting at the other end of the fax machine for it to come out. He was courteous, professional, effective, and decidedly non-bureacratic.

I rejected Minimed's CGM system because I was never able to get my blood sugar to be stable enough for long enough to calibrate the darn thing, and I had a whole lot of trouble inserting the sensor. I think I only ever got it right twice before I gave up the project all together. Even still, I called Minimed at least two times, pretty frustrated, and the representative talked me off the ledge. I actually hung up the phone happy and hopeful, in spite of the persistent failure I encountered in using it. Anyone who has worked in customer service knows that takes talent.

I was pleased by Minimed's service again last summer when I was pregnant. My pump started malfunctioning, and eventually got to the point where it was not delivering boluses at all. I freaked out, called Minimed at 3:30 in the afternoon, and by 10:00 the next morning, I had a new pump in my hands. They completely replaced it for free, and I didn't hear another word about it.(In case you are curious, the problem was moisture. Since maternity pants don't often have pockets or a real waistband to clip to, I was wearing it in my bra a lot. Since it was summer and I was seven months pregnant, I was sweating a lot. The moisture got in and wreaked havoc.)

My most recent success with Minimed has a rather lengthy back-story that involves all the intrigue of a mid-year letter from my insurance company, new prescription restrictions and policy limits, and "prior approval from your doctor." Or, maybe that's only a source of intrigue if a larger-than-average percentage of your time is devoted to these things...

In January or February, I received a letter from our health insurance company indicating that they would no longer cover strips in an amount higher than 204 strips. The letter did not specify the period (one month or three months), but let's take the worst case scenario. For three months, 204 strips works out to checking my blood sugar between 2 and 3 times per day.

Since I recently calculated that it costs $3,000 for One-Touch Ultra test strips for me for one year (testing 8 times per day), I can understand my insurance company's incentive to avoid covering them. On the other hand, I love to check my blood sugar every two hours. I learned how useful it was when I became pregnant. At first it was a drag, but after 9 months, I was hooked. I would prefer that my insurance company support my habit (it's not, after all, like smoking a pack a day). I would also prefer that they not change policy limits in the middle of the policy term.

I was well-stocked on strips at the time when I received the letter, so I inwardly grumbled a little but basically resolved to do nothing. When it came time for me to order strips again, I remembered the letter with some fear and trembling. I pulled it out to read again, and noticed that it said something about the possibility of having additional test strips covered with my doctor's approval. I have always hated calling either my doctor's office or my insurance company to beg for special favors, so that's when I had a brilliant idea (Enter Minimed, stage right).

I logged onto Minimed's internet store, entered the number of boxes of strips that I wanted, and penned a small note in the comment box: "My insurance company has some policy limits on the number of strips that will are covered under my plan, but I check 8 times per day and they said I could get more with approval from my doctor...," and clicked Submit. Let's see if they can figure it out, I thought to myself. I am almost always proactive in working with my insurance policy and my providers because I don't like surprise medical bills showing up in the mail, but I can't tell you how many times I've been told that they cannot guarantee coverage until the claim is submitted. So I submitted it and hoped Minimed would come through for me again.

The next thing I saw, two weeks later, was an Explanation of Benefits from United Healthcare. Of course, only one box of strips was covered. Great, I thought. This is going to be a nightmare. Still, I had hope that Minimed would call my doctor to arrange for the approval, ask United Healthcare to pretty please re-consider the claim, and send me a bill for no more than my co-pay.

We've been getting ready to go on vacation, and since the order was placed about 2 months ago, I knew we were getting close to the time when the Medtronic bill would be sent my way. I was afraid that it would show up in the mail the day we left, we'd be gone for two weeks, and I'd be on the hook for $600 with precious little time to spare to call and harass - er, request more information from - the relevant parties.

On Monday, two days ago, I received the tell-tale envelope. Gulp. I opened it slowly, and began pondering my options. Who should I call first? Should I follow up while I'm on vacation? What if I have to fax something? As you can probably guess, my bill was nothing more than my $60 co-pay. WHAT A RELIEF! Yet again, Minimed saved me the hassle and not a few gray hairs. Maybe it was not as difficult as I feared it would be, or maybe it cost one of their billing representatives an entire 8-hour work day to figure out. In any case, it's exactly what a company should do as far as I'm concerned. And the customer is always right...or something like that.

I'll be signing off for a few weeks while we're on vacation. By the time you read this, we will have been on the road for 3 hours and hopefully not ripping one another's hair out. I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer, and two things I won't be worrying about while I'm gone are 1) finishing my blog posts (ahem, Jenn) and 2) my Medtronic bill.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I totally agree with you about Minimed's customer service, Beth! they are amazing!! one night my pump conked out back in 2005 at around 12midnight I called them... some how (are they magicians?) there was a pump at my door at 11am!! 11 hours later, did they fly a plane just for me from cali with it? I have NO idea, but that was FREE!!!

    You hit it on the money about the CGM though. :) (i'm posting next!!)