For months now, I’ve heard complaints about the current state of the U.S. health-care system, but until recently, I had no specific reason to be dissatisfied. Then, I started my search for a new pediatrician for my daughter and “got a taste of some bad medicine.”
At the start of the year, my family’s employer-provided health-insurance policy changed, and Reese’s pediatrician was no longer an in-network physician for us. We needed to find a different pediatrician who accepts our new insurance. So I did a little “homework” and chose a doctor who I thought would be a good fit for us.
According to my research, my new pediatrician of choice had plenty of experience, was well-educated and liked by her patients and peers, had earned plenty of accolades in her field and had practice offices in locations that are convenient for my family — in addition to Saturday hours, which is something I value.
I called and made an appointment, taking care to explain to the receptionist that this would be a new-patient consultation. My daughter was not due for a checkup, nor was she sick. I simply wanted to meet our new pediatrician, establish a rapport with her and let her know I’m glad she’ll be treating my daughter from now on. I did not want to wait until the first time Reese gets sick to call our new doctor and risk having her office refuse my request for an appointment because my daughter wasn’t technically a patient yet.
I explained to the receptionist that my daughter needed a new pediatrician due to insurance issues that necessitated the change. I had every reason to believe the woman understood what I was saying.
On Wednesday, my girl and I headed out for our very first appointment with Reese’s new health-care provider. I had downloaded all the required paperwork from the practice’s website, filled it out, provided copies of Reese’s shot record, our insurance card and even my driver’s license. Feeling efficient, I turned everything in at the front desk and led Reese to the waiting area.
It wasn’t long before a physician’s assistant called us back to the exam room. She began talking to me about the vaccines Reese was slated to receive.
I explained that my daughter already is up-to-date on all her vaccines and doesn’t need any. The assistant looked puzzled and asked, “Well, isn’t this her 18-month checkup?”
I said, “No, she had that three months ago. She doesn’t need another checkup until her second birthday in three more months.”
Then the assistant asked me whether Reese was sick. I told her no, and again explained why we were there. She said the doctor would be in shortly and left the room.
We waited in the exam room for about 20 minutes. At that point, a woman who introduced herself as the office manager came in to talk to me. She said we could not see the pediatrician unless I was willing to pay the out-of-pocket price for a regular checkup.
Apparently, since it was not a routine wellness check or a sick call, the doctor’s office had no way to “code” the visit for medical-billing purposes so that our insurance would pay for it. Insurance doesn’t cover “new-patient consultations,” and the pediatrician must not be willing to spend any time with patients unless every second of “face time” is billable.
I declined to pay out-of-pocket for our appointment and incredulously asked why the pediatrician wasn’t even willing to see a new patient for five minutes — just so we’d know who she is and she’d know who we are. The office manager said the pediatrician’s time is valuable and there really was no reason for her to meet us. She told me that I signed all the proper forms to allow them to request Reese’s records and charts from her old pediatrician, so the first time she gets sick, they’ll be ready to treat her. And then, since I wasn’t willing to whip out my checkbook, I was told we were free to go.
So, we left. I never even got a glimpse of the doctor. And I don’t think we ever will.