Claim denied: the $43,364.27 battery

Paige Riley has a serious medical condition: gastroparesis. The stomach cannot empty itself, causing nausea, vomiting and pain. Fortunately for Paige, her husband’s employer provided a very attractive insurance plan, so the installation of an Enterra – a device implanted under her skin which ameliorated her condition by prompting the stomach to do its job – was covered back in 2005. And when its batteries needed to be replaced in 2007 – which of course also required surgery since the device was under her skin – that was covered too.

Earlier this year, another operation became necessary to replace the fading batteries. As reports, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, the plan administrator for the insurance plan, decided Enterra was experimental and refused to cover the $43,364.27 bill to install new batteries. So Ms. Riley had to proceed to court.

Now guess which law governs her case. That’s right – ERISA. So her chances of prevailing in court and getting the procedure covered are drastically reduced because ERISA makes it exceedingly difficult to overturn an insurance company’s denial of your health insurance claim. And of course if you do manage to get it overturned the remedies you recover are very, very stingy. Indeed these factors do a lot to explain why an insurer will deny coverage to replace batteries in a device which had already been approved.

So Ms. Riley was left with the choice of going ahead with a dead Enterra device implanted under her skin, and living with the symptoms of gastroparesis, or scrambling to come up with $43,364.27 out of her own pocket.

I don’t know what to call that sort of arrangement, but it certainly isn’t “insurance.”