Archived Story

Resistance to insurance companies is futile

Published 10:54am Friday, February 8, 2013

Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling

“We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” — from the TV show “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

I blame my ancestry, all those generations of fierce and stubborn Prussians finding ways to survive, surrounded by fierce enemies, while farming and fishing in the harsh conditions along the coast of the Baltic Sea and the other less-than-pleasant places of far northern Germany.

Having traveled through there on more than one trip to visit extended family in the “old country,” I can confirm it’s bleakness in winter, and the standoffishness of its inhabitants, at least compared to where I grew up in Arizona and where I live now in Minnesota.

At any rate, I blame all of those ancestors. It is their fault, this stubborn streak that leads me to make decisions that just do not make sense, decisions that are not logical. What activates it, this dormant but powerful gene within my body? Pressure. Pressure from other people to do anything, no matter how pleasant.

Years ago, as soon as the film “Titanic” became a blockbuster, and people at work started telling me “you have to see this” as we exchanged the required social pleasantries, I refused to go. Nobody is going to make me see a movie, I told myself, controlled by my stubborn Prussian DNA.

Once “The Lord of the Rings” movies became popular, considered “must-see” films for all those people who hadn’t read any of the books, I battled that stubbornness. My lifelong love of J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth suppressed the urge to stay home and sulk; I claimed my spot in those long lines at the movie theater so I could share in Frodo’s journey.

Early last fall an opportunity for that DNA arrived with the annual “request” from our insurance provider to call one of their representatives. The purpose of the call? To beg to be allowed to continue using our local pharmacist to fill the prescriptions that are the only legacy of my heart condition (corrected through surgery three years ago). These are considered “maintenance” medications by the insurer, and like the Borg from Star Trek, they keep pressuring me to comply with their demands to switch to an out-of-town mail order pharmacy to get them filled.

Oh sure, they offer bribes for compliance in the form of reduced out-of-pocket expenses, and those reductions are substantial. But it is still pressure to comply with their preferences. Plus, this pressure comes from corporate lackeys, a collective of bureaucrats who follow policy without knowing anything about me or where I live or even who the local pharmacist is.

Logically, of course, I realize that this pressure to use the mail-order service does increase efficiency and bring down costs in the health care system. And I acknowledge how out of balance our medical costs are, draining resources from the economy in ever increasing amounts.

However, logic does not matter in this situation; the Prussian DNA gets activated by that pressure: My spine stiffens. My brow furrows. Loudly and proudly, I exclaim “je refuse” (actually using the French, because it sounds so much more impressive).

So this year, I resisted and refused to comply. I did not call. Now the insurance company refuses to subsidize my medication costs. Which is fine with me, because it means I won. The insurance company pressured me, and I refused to comply.

This refusal, of course, has cost me money, quite a bit of money, though at this point still within the monthly budget. But does that financial consequence have an impact on me? Not a chance. Once that Prussian DNA activates, it takes something stronger than money to deactivate it.

Even more recently, however, all of this resistance became moot, because my stubborn resolve to stand firm has been undermined by she-who-must-be-obeyed (one of the few forces in the universe that can deactivate that Prussian DNA). She discovered that we can indicate our preferences via a handy website, and my maintenance medications will be covered once again.

There is a downside to this victory of logic and economics. Even though I’m saving money (that I can now presumably spend on books, Legos and chocolate), I feel as if I have been defeated. The insurance company, acting like the Borg, has demanded compliance, and resistance turned out to be futile.

David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.