Category Archives: Blue Cross

Identity Theft Memory Hole

It’s very amusing that people have suddenly discovered the identity theft issue, but it’s really annoying that they only seem to care about it in relation to It’s not like your private insurance company doesn’t have all of this same information, folks, and it’s not like they are any less vulnerable to theft than Obamacare.

Let’s take a trip into the memory hole and go waay back to 2009. Oh lookie here: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee had 57 hard drives containing unencrypted client identity information stolen from a closet at its Chattanooga office.

Or how about back in 2007, when thieves stole laptops containing the Davidson County voter rolls — which include everyone’s social security numbers?

We’re always hearing about data breaches at places like and PayPal. I need look no further back than October 2013 when the State of Tennessee, which processes my paychecks, lost all of my information — not just social security number and passport number but also my freaking bank account number, because I signed up for direct deposit. All of it … gone. Not only did I not get paid for an entire month but now I have to worry about what the hell happened to this sensitive information. Probably nothing, but should I take this risk?

Wingers are going nuts about the Obamacare website exposing people to identity theft, but it’s not like everyone’s information isn’t available to thieves in a thousand other ways, too. Identity theft isn’t new, and it isn’t something Obamacare has brought on.

I find this incredibly annoying.


Filed under Blue Cross, health insurance, healthcare, Obamacare

Guess Who Went To The Doctor Today

Last week I went to the dentist. Today I went to my ob/gyn for my annual.

These days, any trip to the doctor is an infuriating, exasperating traipse through our screwed up healthcare system. And I’m a really healthy person, with really good insurance. Still, red tape and insurance bullshit manages to piss me off every damn time.

I had already decided I was going to ask my doctor about the mandatory pre-abortion ultrasound bills currently making their way through the legislature, in particular, the deafening silence from the medical community and ob/gyn’s in general on this and other issues affecting women’s healthcare. But dang, before I could even get to that we got in a debate about socialized medicine.

It started when she told me she wouldn’t perform the ol’ “blood in the stool” test, aka the FOBT, which I’ve had done routinely for 30 something years. This was because, she said, “BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee no longer covers it.” Lovely. I repeat: not because I didn’t need it, but because insurance wouldn’t cover it. And that, she said, was because over the past few years insurance has routinely been paying for fewer and fewer things.

This test is an easy, cheap way to detect colorectal cancer. But hey, I’m over 50 now, it’s not like colon cancer is a concern for us olds, right?

Don’t answer that.

It doesn’t matter because she said I need to think about getting a colonoscopy at some point, since I’m an olds, and of course it’s a better diagnostic test. Now, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee only pays for one every 10 years if the first one comes back clean. So let’s hope I don’t develop anything in the decade in between tests because apparently I’d have no fucking way of knowing about it.

Okie dokie, let’s hope what I don’t know won’t kill me! Thank you, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee! May you all get colorectal cancer and die an excruciating, miserable death.

Yes, Republicans. Do tell me more about bureaucrats coming between me and my doctor. I’m dying to hear.

So then we both commiserated about how awful insurance was. I asked her which insurance company was the best in terms of coverage, since she dealt with so many. She said none of them, they’re all bad. Okay, I said, fine, then why don’t we ditch them all and go to socialized medicine?

“Oh, no! That’s worse,” she said. In England, she said, whether you have a hangnail or cancer, you’re put into the system at the same place. In other words, serious health issues aren’t given any more priority than minor ones. She heard this from a patient who lived in London for two years. Her patient, however, was considered a “guest of the country” and was put to the top of the list, she explained. (I’m a little unclear how the patient would know, plus if that were true, wouldn’t there be astronomical cancer fatality rates there? Which doesn’t seem to be happening.)

“That’s certainly not what my Canadian friends have told me,” I said. “I don’t know about England, but they told me in Canada if something’s seriously wrong, you’re priority. It’s true you might have to wait longer for routine stuff, but heck, I made this appointment a year ago!” It’s true, I had.

“Oh no,” my doctor responded, wagging her finger at me. “I know someone who lives in Vancouver and when she needed something done she went to Seattle.”

Clearly we weren’t getting anywhere, trading our stories about “people we knew.” What I did say was, what do we do? This can’t be the best there is. What we’re doing now isn’t working, too many people are uninsured, and the poor are suffering the most.

“Oh, the poor have TennCare,” she said.

And so it went. Clearly my doctor didn’t know the first thing about people who weren’t her patients. She worked at a nice office in the heart of Nashville’s central healthcare campus, not the Vine Hill or Downtown clinics. Her clients weren’t the uninsured or marginalized. Nor did she know anything about what was happening in the state legislature. I asked her if she was aware that there were bills in the legislature requiring women to get an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

“Really?!” She seemed genuinely surprised. Jesus, lady! I wanted to scream. You’re a gynecologist! This is your field! Don’t you pay attention to what legislators are doing affecting your own business?

I asked if there was any medical reason why this procedure would be necessary. “They need to do it,” she said, “to determine the age of the fetus.”

“But what if a woman is positive that it’s within the first trimester?”

“They still need to do it, to make sure.”

“To make sure?”

“To make sure she’s telling the truth.”

Wow. So we have this law to mandate a diagnostic procedure because women are liars. Got that, ladies? The government thinks you’re all liars, just like with all of that “legitimate rape” stuff, and so they need to check up on you with a diagnostic tool whose sole function is to make sure you’re telling the truth.

Yes, Republicans. Do tell me more about your belief in “small government.” I’m dying to hear.

Keep in mind, I was just told I wouldn’t get a routine colon cancer diagnostic because my insurance won’t pay for it.

Like an idiot, I asked my doctor if she performed abortions. She told me no.

“Does anyone here perform them?”


“So where does someone go if they need one? Someone with insurance, who can afford it, where do you refer them?”

“Planned Parenthood, I guess,” my doctor answered. “Or Atlanta.”

Keep in mind, Nashville is a healthcare city. Healthcare is one of the largest industries here. We have several major hospitals here. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce proudly touts how healthcare contributes $30 billion to the local economy and creates over 210,000 jobs. But that’s all bullshit. None of that matters if you’re a woman who needs an abortion. For that, you go to Atlanta.

I asked why, although I already knew the answer. But I wanted to hear her say it. And she did. It’s just too controversial, she said. “It’s the religious people, they don’t want it,” she said. Insurance won’t pay for it. Hospitals don’t want to have anything to do with it. And finally she said, “doctors have been killed.”

I’m sure “the religious people” will be thrilled to learn they have successfully intimidated doctors in Nashville into not performing abortions. What’s sad is that Nashville is touted as being a progressive city, a patch of blue surrounded by a sea of red. But we’re still a city where women are second-class citizens because our healthcare needs aren’t treated equally.

It’s not just abortion. My doctor told me that as of January 2009, she can’t perform tubal ligations at Baptist Hospital. Baptist is one of the major hospitals here in Nashville and in 2002 Baptist merged with St. Thomas, another major player, so both are now under the Ascension Health umbrella, which is a Catholic non-profit. I had read that because religious hospitals all receive federal funds, they had to offer some kind of “secular floor,” where stuff the Catholics find religiously offensive can be done.

“It was a room, not a floor,” my doctor told me. “A separate room.” And the nurse technician that would assist her had to clock out, clock in again for the hour of surgery, and clock back out again, so she could be paid out of separate, non-religious funds. But as of January 2009, that room is no longer there. Someone who is not a Catholic will nonetheless have their medical choices made by the Catholic church.

Yes, Republicans. Do tell me more about your belief in “religious freedom.” I’m dying to hear.

This is all just so crazy to me. I didn’t intend to write a novel, but we just covered so much ground. What I wanted to know is why the medical profession hasn’t spoken up as the state house and senate legislate their profession. I mean, good lord, every time something happens in Washington we have a flurry of industry associations and phony astroturf groups telling us why it’s a bad idea. Where’s the TN Medical Assn.? Besides offering “doctor of the day” volunteers and lobbying for tort reform, I mean. It seems they haven’t spoken up because the just don’t know or don’t care.

I asked my doctor why people in her profession didn’t speak out. And she said it’s because nothing was ever going to change. That was just it, it’s too big, too hard, too controversial. It’s not going to change. I was so outraged. I just refuse to believe nothing will ever change. I said, what if people said that back in the days of Jim Crow? We’d still have black hospitals and white hospitals. Yes, she said. You’re right. And that was that.

It was the most disheartening conversation I’ve ever had. Apparently the doctors just can’t be bothered. I mean, I don’t know what else to say and I’m way beyond needing to wrap this up. But I guess I had somehow thought that doctors cared about their patients’ healthcare. Silly me.


Filed under abortion, birth control, Blue Cross, health insurance, healthcare, Nashville, women's rights

Best Healthcare System In The World

My “favorite” insurance company in the world, BlueCross BlueShield, are massive dicks. Radburn Royer donated a kidney to his daughter, and that’s when the fun began:

Like most other kidney donors, Mr. Royer, a retired teacher in Eveleth, Minn., was carefully screened and is in good health. But Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota rejected his application for coverage last year, as well as his appeals, on the grounds that he has chronic kidney disease, even though many people live with one kidney and his nephrologist testified that his kidney is healthy. Mr. Royer was also unable to purchase life insurance.

Even though he’s not high risk, Royer now must purchase insurance from the state’s high-risk pool, for which he has the pleasure of paying more for getting less.

Health insurance no longer functions as it was intended. It’s supposed to pool risk. You don’t pool risk by putting healthy people in the high risk pool and you don’t pool risk by taking the highest risk peole — elderly and the poor — out of the pool entirely. This is the most messed up thing I’ve ever seen.

If I were queen I’d wave a magic wand and make private, for-profit health insurance illegal because it’s parasitic, exploitive and an obstruction to the common good.


Filed under Blue Cross, healthcare

I’m Speaking, BlueCross BlueShield. You Listening?

I’m not sure how I got signed up to be on the BlueCross BlueShield of TN “Blue Voice” panel. Blue Voice is a periodic online survey they send to certain folks, designed to assure us BCBS customers that they really really care. Or, as the slogan goes, “you speak, we listen!”

I have my doubts, of course. Especially with questions like this one:

I'd Like Another Option, Please

Really? These are our only choices? Either the Republican talking point or different variations of you’re wonderful? How about:

I don’t really see the value in having private, for-profit health insurance and would prefer a single-payer system like Medicare for all.

Ha, who am I fooling? BCBS doesn’t really care what we think. They just want us to reaffirm what they think. They’re already convinced that the only reason people opt not to have health insurance is because they “choose to take their chances” instead of “be responsible” and spend the money on this vital expenditure. Sure! It can’t possibly be because they can’t afford a policy, and neither can their employer.

You know what? Years ago I had a policy that I bought directly from BCBS. It was ridiculously expensive, and offered crappy benefits. I had to choose between an annual mammogram or a blood panel. One year I had my cholesterol checked at a Women’s Expo event at the convention center. Another year I did without the mammogram and got a scolding from my doctor.

That wasn’t “choice,” it was “shit fuck damn but this takes a huge bite out of my monthly nut.” I used to joke that I married Mr. Beale for his health insurance but honestly, as wonderful as my husband is, there’s a kernel of truth to that.

But I guess obscene CEO salaries and corporate profits are more important to the insurance industry than making sure their policies are accessible and affordable to everyone. And speaking of salaries, I wonder what Vicky Gregg, CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of TN, earns? According to this story from last year, she’s not choosing between a mammogram and a blood test:

CEO Vicky Gregg refused to provide full disclosure. She said her BC-BS salary was $1.7 million in 2009, but she and her staff refused to say how much she and other executives and board members were compensated through BC-BS’ other 10 for-profit and two nonprofit companies.


Thanks to a requirement under the new Affordable Care Act that directs health-care insurers to disclose their administrative costs beginning this year, those figures are becoming available. Reporter Dave Flessner’s story last Sunday said Gregg’s compensation was now more than $4.4 million. He also found that in 2009, her contract activated partial vesting of certain deferred compensation when she turned 55 that brought her total compensation package that year to nearly $6.2 million — more than three times the amount of compensation that she revealed to us last year.

I’m sure she’s worth every penny of it, too. /sarcasm

No one would ever believe that we have the most expensive healthcare system in the world and have the least to show for it. Nope, let’s just keep pushing that Republican line about people “choosing” to be uninsured, as opposed to being forced to go without while the Vicky Greggs of the industry rake in the millions. Nope, nothing wrong with that scenario!

If you haven’t read Down The Insurance Rabbit Hole yet, please do so now. This story broke my heart, but it’s just one tale among thousands and thousands in this country:

May the justices please meet my sister-in-law. On Feb. 8, she was a healthy 32-year-old, who was seven and a half months pregnant with her first baby. On Feb. 9, she was a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down by a car accident that damaged her spine. Miraculously, the baby, born by emergency C-section, is healthy.

Were the Obama health care reforms already in place, my brother and sister-in-law’s situation — insurance-wise and financially — would be far less dire. My brother’s small employer — he is the manager of a metal-fabrication shop — does not offer health insurance, which was too expensive for them to buy on their own. Fortunately, my sister-in-law had enrolled in the Access for Infants and Mothers program, California’s insurance plan for middle-income pregnant women. AIM coverage extends 60 days postpartum and paid for her stay in intensive care and early rehabilitation.

But when the 60 days is up next week, the family will fall through the welfare medicine rabbit hole. As a scholar of social policy at M.I.T., I teach students how the system works. Now I am learning, in real time.

Imagine if she hadn’t been pregnant. She wouldn’t have had any options — not because she wanted to “take her chances” and spend her money on designer clothes and tennis lessons, but because they could not afford it. This is real stuff, folks. Having no other choice is not “freedom” — it’s the polar opposite.

This part really resonated:

Instead, their financial future is shattered. Family and friends are raising money to buy a wheelchair van and to renovate their home for accessibility. The generosity of the local community is stunning. One incident in particular struck me to the core. A woman from a small community nearby had something for us. A cancer survivor, she had decided to “give back” by placing donation cans in stores around town. She had finished her drive and consolidated the money. The small coffee can she handed over to me and my sister-in-law had a slit in the lid and was decorated with pink felt and ribbons, now a little smudged from handling. Inside were several hundred dollars in small bills. We burst into tears. This is social policy in the richest nation in the history of the world.

I think of that every time I see one of those pickle jars by a cash register or hear of a benefit concert or bake sale to pay for someone’s medical bills. As I observed in this post last year, this is a sure sign your healthcare system is broken. People in France and Norway don’t have to go begging to strangers to pay their medical bills.

But the executives at our major health insurance companies live in a bubble. As the survey I received from BCBS indicates, they really want to stay there, too.


Filed under Blue Cross, corporations, health insurance

We Get Mail

So yesterday’s mail finally brought a letter from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. It reads:

On Monday, October 5, 2009 at 10:00 a.m., BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc. employees discovered a theft of computer equipment at a network closet located in our Eastgate Town Center office location in Chattanooga, TN. The theft occurred Friday, October 2, 2009 at approximately 6:13 p.m. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has established that the items taken include 57 hard drives, containing data which was was encoded but not encrypted.

I wrote about this data theft waaaay back on November 25. The letter we received yesterday was dated December 24.

The theft occurred October 2. That’s two and a half months between when the theft occurred and when we were notified. And I’ve known about it for a month.

You know, when computers were stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission, we knew about it right away. Guess the private world doesn’t work that way.

Moving on:

The hard drives contained encoded audio and video recordings of member and provider eligibility and coordination of benefits calls to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Eastgate call center. As a current or former member, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennesee has identified that some of your information was stored on the hard drives and potentially could be accessed. The information potentially at risk includes your name, address, member ID, diagnosis code, Social Security number and/or date of birth.

Well that’s just lovely. Thanks for waiting two and a half months to let me know.

This is the second data breach for BlueCross/Blue Shield this year, it appears. Also in October, a laptop containing sensitive physician information was stolen:

This is the second reported insurance company data breach this year involving thousands of physicians. The other came to light in October when BlueCross BlueShield-affiliated plans across the country began notifying physicians that a laptop belonging to an employee of the Chicago-based BlueCross BlueShield Assn. was stolen in August.

An unencrypted file containing identifying information for every Blues-contracted physician in the country — about 850,000 physicians in total — was saved on the laptop. So far there’s been no evidence the data have been misused, but state regulators have been critical of the Blues for allowing the breach to happen and for taking months to report it.

Taking months to report it, huh? Where have we heard that before?

So, we’re being offered Kroll’s “ID TheftSmart™” program to monitor us for identity theft for one year. Kroll is one of those major business intelligence/security firms that always scare the crap out of me, sort of like a privatized NSA. I think I’d rather stay off their radar, thank you. And I always get suspicisious when one giant corporation that knows too much about me wants to sign me up with another giant corporation that knows too much about me. Something doesn’t smell right here.

Anyway, I’ve seen local news reports on this BlueCross BlueShield hard drive theft, but I haven’t seen anything in the national news about it, which I find puzzling. Has there been some kind of news blackout? After all, it’s affected tens of thousands of customers all around the country.

Seems to me this kind of stuff is happening with increasing frequency. HealthNet lost a drive with information on its members and physicians, and waited a full six months to tell anyone.

That just isn’t right. If we’re forced to do business with you people, as a government mandate, then there needs to be some kind of penalty when you folks twiddle your thumbs while customers’ Social Security numbers and other private information is out there loose in the world, waiting for anyone to snap up. I don’t think they take our privacy very seriously, and I think waiting six months or even two months to notify customers shows you were more concerned about covering your own asses than your customers’ protection. Also, I don’t think one years’ worth of “identity theft protection” is going to make anyone feel better. What happens in two years? Three?

Anyway, just a thought. The media coverage of this has been a big fail (no surprise there) and I get the sneaking suspicion that BlueCross BlueShield is hoping no one will really notice.


Filed under Blue Cross, health insurance, Tennessee

BlueCross BlueShield Data Theft


Check out my December follow-up to this story.


Although the theft occurred Oct. 2, as of Thanksgiving weekend BCBS-TN customers, including employers, had yet to be notified of the theft. Maybe they were hoping no one would notice.


Someone needs to explain to me why computers with peoples’ personal information on it are still being treated like they’re harmless office supplies. If it’s got Social Security numbers, birth dates, etc., then it needs to be kept under lock and key. And don’t put it on every freaking computer hard drive in the office.

So now BlueCross BlueShield of TN is the latest to compromise people’s personal information:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will provide free credit monitoring for any customers whose personal information could be at risk after 57 computer hard drives were stolen from an office at the state’s largest health insurer.

BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Thompson said work is continuing to determine how many of the Chattanooga-based insurer’s 3.1 million customers are affected.

The hard drives were taken Oct. 2 from a closet at the BlueCross Eastgate Town Center training center, where employees are preparing to relocate to the insurer’s new state headquarters in downtown Chattanooga.

BlueCross earlier reported that 68 hard drives were taken.

Glad to hear those nine showed up somewhere. As a BCBS-TN customer, let me say the one year of free Equifax monitoring doesn’t restore my confidence that you folks know what the hell you are doing. Frankly, I never understood why Social Security numbers needed to be part of my medical file anyway. I’m sure I just don’t understand how medical billing works.

Even worse, a lot of this shit is for sale. We live in this Big Brother world of corporate information gathering where companies specializing in data mining harvest all sorts of information that drives decision making to maximize profits. It’s the free hand of the market at its worse, looking over doctors’ shoulders at what prescriptions they are writing:

The practice is known as “prescription data mining.” Medical data firms annually blend several billion prescription records purchased from pharmacies and health insurers with physician data from the American Medical Association and other sources and sell the results to drug companies.

The result, according to critics of the practice, is increased prescribing of the newest and costliest, though not necessarily more effective, drugs.

The health insurance companies are selling this information? Ohhh goodie, yet another revenue stream. It’s bad enough they deny claims from paying policy holders; now they’re making money by selling the private information from those claims they do allow. Great. So glad we are asked to waive our HIPAA rights every time we check in at the doctor’s office.

Anyway, I thought some of the 3 million+ BCBS-TN customers should know that their personal information may have been compromised, because I certainly didn’t get a phone call from my insurance company about it. Thank you, local media: you did your job this time.

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Filed under Blue Cross, Tennessee

>Why I Hate Insurance Companies

>I support the general concept of insurance–I get that there is a benefit to pooling resources and all–but when you add the profit motive in there, you end up on pretty shaky moral ground.

Case in point, Blue Cross of California:

Facing a torrent of criticism Tuesday, Blue Cross of California abruptly halted its practice of asking physicians in a letter to look for medical conditions that could be used to cancel patients’ insurance coverage.

[ … ]

In a letter to physicians last week, Blue Cross asked the doctors to “identify members who have failed to disclose medical conditions on their applications that may be considered pre-existing.”

It went on to say that “Blue Cross has the right to cancel a member’s policy back to its effective date for failure to disclose material medical history.”

Way to go, Blue Cross. Asking doctors to snitch on their patients kinda drives a wedge in the doctor-patient relationship, doesn’t it? I don’t know too many doctors who went to medical school so they could serve the needs of for-profit insurance companies, not people seeking healthcare.

Insurance companies make their profit by ensuring you don’t get the healthcare you need. That’s just wrong. We need to take the profit motive out of the healthcare mix, because it doesn’t work. If that sounds all scary “socialist,” then fine.

Healthcare is a mess in this country, and one of the primary reasons is because it’s been treated as a for-profit, money-making enterprise. I happen to think that’s immoral. I think it’s wrong to profit from the suffering, disease, and general healthcare needs of people. Healthcare isn’t a luxury item, it’s a necessity.

This is why I’m against the whole “marketplace” argument related to healthcare. When a doctor says I need x, y or z, I don’t want to shop around. I’m not buying laundry detergent, I’m trying to get healthy. I’m not a “consumer,” I’m someone who wants to feel better, or else I’m trying to keep from getting sick later.

The way we approach healthcare in this country is truly idiotic.

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Filed under Blue Cross, health insurance, healthcare