missing pieces … in 2 parts

missing pieces 03.12.15

This week I’m going to do something different and split my post in half, as there are two totally separate but important topics I want to cover.

1. New York’s limitation on prosthetic limb benefits

As some readers may know, I’m on the Board of Directors of a few organizations in the orthotics and prosthetics industry. One of those organizations – The National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics (link on the upper left side of this webpage) – recently took on the task of coordinating a response to a New York State insurance restriction that could have a profoundly negative impact on prosthetic-wearing amputees.

As a result of The Affordable Care Act, every state that opted to voluntarily start an insurance exchange is required to select a “benchmark plan.” As the title suggests, the benchmark plan serves as the baseline for what all insurance plans offered through the exchanges must offer as standard benefits.

The good news is that New York’s benchmark plan covers prosthetics. But the bad news is that it covers only 1 prosthesis per limb per life for adults. One and done. And it gets worse.

I went online to see whether perhaps other New York exchange plans nevertheless offer prosthetic coverage that acknowledges the reality that amputees require a new prosthesis due to changes in their clinical condition over time. After all, the benchmark plan is just a minimum standard; an insurer could choose to offer more than what’s in the benchmark if it wanted to.

I limited my search to “platinum” plans, the ones that offer the most benefits. In my zip code, I had 32 possible separate plans offered by 7 different insurers. Here are the results:

  • United Healthcare: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life;
  • Empire BCBS: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life;
  • Emblem Health: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life;
  • Oscar: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life;
  • Fidelis Care: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life;
  • Affinity Health Plans: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life; and
  • Health Republic Insurance: 1 prosthetic device per limb per life.

And it gets worse.

The benchmark plan is issued by a subsidiary of United Healthcare: Oxford. When I co-owned an O&P facility in NY from 2001 -2006, Oxford was the only insurer with a 1 prosthesis per limb per life limitation. And I know from speaking to New York prosthetists between 2007-2014 that it remained the only payer with such a restriction, even after I left the world of patient care. But as soon as New York selected the Oxford plan as the benchmark, all of the other insurers offering plans on the exchange adopted the restriction, effectively universalizing a limitation that had been limited to only 1 payer for at least 15 years.

As an amputee living in New York with more than a passing knowledge of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements, this limitation struck me as potentially violative of multiple provisions in the law. NAAOP agreed and has allocated key resources to coordinate an effort to get this changed. Working with local stakeholders who have donated significant time and resources of their own, numerous lawmakers in Albany are now learning about the 1 prosthesis per limb per lifetime restriction. In addition, there is an online petition that allows people to communicate their outrage at this limitation. In just one week we have secured nearly 2400 signatures, but we need more.

Please make sure that as many amputees as possible go to onelimbforlife.com to sign this electronic petition. We need New York legislators to pay attention to the potentially life-changing damage that this restriction to medically necessary prosthetic care could cause individuals with limb loss living in New York. Thanks in advance to everyone who shares this link!

2. never take anything for granted

I was speaking with a friend on Tuesday morning about the 1 prosthesis per limb per life restriction. As I was getting ready to jump off the phone he said, “I’ve got some bad news for you.” I figured I was about to learn that we had missed something important in the course of developing messaging for New York lawmakers regarding this insurance issue, so I could only sit there for a moment feeling the world rotate oddly around me as he said that Phil Kreuter had died.

A physical therapist, Phil devoted a huge part of his professional life to working with people with disabilities, especially amputees. He was the person who, more than anyone else, helped me see life with a prosthesis as a life full of opportunities. It helped that Phil had a track record that made his words carry extra resonance: he had worked at numerous national and international athletic competitions, including the ’96 Paralympics. He wasn’t just spewing empty words; he had seen it and, equally important, worked with people who had done it.

When I received my first prosthesis, Phil was the guy who trained me, day after day, for months. He taught me what “hop-skip” was. He let me use the treadmill in his facility for 60-90 minutes straight, multiple days per week, long after my insurance plan’s physical therapy benefit had run out, letting me train for free while paying able-bodied patients were there. He accompanied me on my first 10K race a few months after I got my prosthesis, spending 90 minutes on the pavement at a laughably slow pace while giving me water and words of encouragement that carried me through the final miles. He donated time on the weekends to take me to the local track and taught me how to run leg-over-leg in my everyday prosthesis, before I even knew what a running foot was.

As our friendship grew, he loaned me back issues of Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine, as I started trying to gain some spiritual perspective on why I had survived my accident. We spent weekends and evenings talking about starting a not-for-profit that would provide able-bodied and disabled athletes the opportunity to compete against each other. Our theory was that we could fundamentally change the perspective able-bodied people had of people with disabilities.  (A fascinating concept that foundered on the financial reality that the cost of the physical space we’d need to do it far exceeded our respective bank accounts. And, interestingly, a concept that groups like The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team ultimately validated.) I came with him when he taught PT students about treating patients with disabilities so they could see a Real. Live. Amputee. I babysat his daughters once.

Unfortunately, we fell out of touch over the last 8 years. It was nothing personal; events just made it that way. But that doesn’t make his sudden absence any less hard to process.

He was, I would guess, only in his mid-50’s and in great shape – an excellent runner and avid cyclist. So learning that he’d suffered a massive stroke and – like that – was gone, left me feeling a deep emptiness, like I’d lost something vital to who I am.

Cara asked what was wrong on Tuesday night after enduring a day of gruff, monosyllabic responses from me. “Phil was probably the person who had the greatest impact on me during the most important time of my life,” I replied. It seems completely contradictory to miss someone you haven’t spoken to in close to a decade. And yet, when it comes to Phil, that makes sense to me.

So Phil, as I type this and feel the lump growing in the back of my throat, I hope you knew how much you meant to me. I hope you understood – even though you’d deny it if I told you – that everything I achieved after my accident was only possible because I had you there to show me. I was so, so lucky to have you as a friend.

And I’ll miss you.

8 thoughts on “missing pieces … in 2 parts

  1. Dave, How would we go about checking out our states positions on prosthetics. I myself have fairly decent coverage but I am also an insurance assister for people with disabilities. The one thing, in trying to help people find coverage, is that we don’t normally delve too deep in that coverage. As a matter of fact, I haven’t dealt with anyone that was an amputee. So, mindful of the person I am working with, I never get to pursue that particular coverage.

    Deepest condolences on the passing of your friend. Like you, my amputation came from being hit by a car while the driver was on a cell phone. The people that we became whole again with, in our recovery, become very special to us.

    • Tammie – thanks for the kind words. Phil was a great guy, and this really isn’t about me; it’s about him. But I appreciate the thoughts.

      Re. checking what your state plan does with prosthetics, you can link to a general overview of each state’s benchmark plan here: http://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Data-Resources/ehb.html. These tend to be pretty high-level summaries, so it’s not always 100% clear what the policy is with respect to prosthetics specifically. If you’re not sure after checking that, another route to go is to go on your state’s exchange website and see if the plans available there have any information. For example, in NY when I go onto the exchange website, it lists every plan with a bullet list of the essential health benefits. Under the “Habilitative and rehabilitative” bullet, prosthetics was specifically listed, albeit with the one-per-life limit.

      All of that being said, I looked at all 50 benchmark plans, and NY was the only one I remember seeing with an open and obvious limitation on prosthetics. Other states, as I alluded to above, have benchmark plan summaries that make determining the issue difficult simply because they don’t say much of anything at all.

      This may not be the most helpful answer, but it can get you started. Feel free to follow up with me directly if you want to take this discussion offline and go through it in more detail.

  2. I feel the same. The only reason I am living a successful life on a prosthetic is because of Phil. There was no one like him. We are a greater group of people for having known him. XO

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