Saturday, May 4, 2013

Boston Bombings Draw Attention to Insurance Disparity for Amputees

Horrifying. There is no other word to describe it. At least 15 new amputees because of it. 

This terrible, gut-wrenching atrocity has also raised public awareness of the Insurance Fairness for Amputees Act. The  the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) pledged to supply prostheses for amputees who were injured in the bombings yet lack adequate insurance to cover the costs. Note the interactive feature at the top of the link showing the history of prosthetics. The cartoon featuring the prosthetic of "today" is not covered by many private and self-insured plans. This prosthesis contains a microprocessor that increases the safety for the wearer, reducing falls and increasing the wearers' confidence. However, many plans including my own, consider this a luxury. Remember that a prosthesis will never restore the missing limb. An above-the-knee amputee, at best, will get 40-50% function back. A bilateral amputee expends much more energy while walking than a person with 2 functional legs. It's like slogging through mud - on your knees. Try it sometime and you'll see why something that increases functionality even by a few percentage points, feels like heaven. Oh, but wait... if it feels like heaven, is that comfort? Should amputees be denied comfort? Think of the bombing victims - children, healthy sound men, mothers - should they be denied anything that can be restorative? Think about that and then read the clause in my insurance contract:

"If you elect to purchase a prosthetic appliance or device with deluxe enhancements or features such as electronic components, microprocessors or other features designed to enhance performance (God forbid we would want to enhance performance for an amputee!), 'the Plan' is only responsible for the amount that would have been allowed for a basic (standard) appliance. You will be responsible for paying the additional cost of the deluxe enhancements, electronic components, microprocessors, performance enhancements, comfort, convenience or luxury items."

Prosthetic arms and legs are not a luxury or a convenience! Why, when we can replace amputated breasts without question, when we can provide a penile implant to sire children, why, why, why can we not provide an arm or a leg? No prosthetic limb, no matter how advanced, will ever come close to the real limb. Are we not allowed the dignity of trying to be as normal and as functional as possible?

I was contacted this week by the Amputee Coalition of America to speak out about the Insurance Fairness Act. I admit that I've grown weary of trying to draw attention to this issue and get the bill passed. My Congressman and Senator have been largely unresponsive. Roy Blunts' office told me that he would not support another health care "mandate." This bill is not a mandate. We're asking that prosthetics be covered like any other medical expense under our insurance plans. We're not asking for a handout, just a leg up. The most it would cost members of the insured plan is pennies a month. 

Folks, it's the same old story I've been telling for 5 years. Nothing has changed. Obama didn't make a difference. I'm afraid that giving the bombing victims free prosthetics will only sweep this issue under the carpet. People don't realize this type of insurance discrimination exists. They'll be so caught up in the moment, witnessing these victims through their recovery, marveling at all the advanced technology and, "Isn't it amazing what they can do these days!" while the hundreds of other amputees who are denied prosthetics suffer. 

Just to emphasize how idiotic people are regarding prosthetics, I was watching the HBO comedy, VEEP last Sunday. The Vice President was lamenting the fact that a decision she made cost a serviceman his leg. Her adviser quipped, "Don't worry, Ma'am. Have you seen the kinds of prosthetics available these days? Heck, I would cut off one of my legs just to have something like that!" 

Really? I'll trade any day. 

Well, there. I've spoken out. I remain saddened and cynical.