Dear Anthem, screw you. Sincerely, me and all your patients.
My editor gives me a maximum of 1,000 words a column, so let me just get straight to the point: Exactly where the fuck do you get the audacity?
Every year, you try to pull the same bullshit and deny me critical heart medicine, and every year, I have to fight to get it approved again — even though you’ve approved it for the past four years. It usually takes hours on the phone, multiple prior authorizations and letters from my doctor and a peer-to-peer for you to approve it. Once again. For another year.
But this year, your bullshit almost crushed me.
The first day of the year rolled around and I attempted to refill my prescription for Corlanor. The pharmacy told me you mixed up my primary and secondary insurance. Shocker. For maybe the quadrillionth time I called you to sort it out, missing class again while on hold being bounced from agent to agent for 70 minutes. You assured me it was all squared away and that I could go pick up my Corlanor, and sure enough, the pharmacy said nothing’s changed.
Then you outright deny it. Big surprise. We’re both aware it’s insanely expensive, so you tell me to take the “comparable medication propranolol,” which you know I tried four years ago and it nearly made me lose my consciousness, hence why you approved the fucking Corlanor.
It doesn’t seem to even register to you that I’m a chronically ill, complex patient with five overlapping medical conditions for which I take a carefully-crafted long list of medications and infusions. You know this, at least I thought so, because it’s your job. But no, each time it’s:
Doctor to Pharmacy: “She needs this medicine – no substitutions.”
Pharmacy to Insurance: “Her doctor says she needs this medicine.”
Insurance to Pharmacy: “Does she though? Let’s ask her doctor.”
And around we go.
After finally bypassing the absolute atrocity that is the CoverMyMeds portal — the third-party website Anthem makes you use to submit prior authorizations — my mom, nurse and I collectively spend another 70 minutes on the phone being bounced between Denise, Melanie, Tavarum and Giselle, who all make me repeat the same story, only for Giselle to tell us they “never received any submission of a prior authorization.” What in the reverse-psychology hellscape is this?
Meanwhile, without medication, I’m out of breath walking up the stairs and my heart is pounding so loud I can hear it in my ears like some nightmare ASMR. I have one fail safe option and I decide to use it because I can barely make it to class: my emergency box of Corlanor I bought from Canada last year when you left me without medication — again.
I’ve heard about people buying insulin from Mexico or moving to the UK to get free healthcare, but never in my life did I think I’d be a part of that growing number of Americans outsourcing medication from another country out of utter desperation. I don’t recommend this as this formulation had new side effects, but when the price is $600 to $2,000 in the United States and only $30 in Canada, and you corner me like this, I’m left with no choice.
Ultimately, this process took three weeks and, in the end, you approved me for a dose lower than what I was on last year.
The worst part is I found out that you were supposed to mail me a letter in December of last year asking if I simply wanted to renew my prior authorization from 2022 to 2023, and all I had to do was respond “Yes” and I’d have had a seamless transition with no interruption of care to this year. You never sent it and even admitted to not sending it. A “clerical error.”
I go through the exhausting trouble of telling you this story because you don’t see what this ordeal did to me psychologically, and you never will, and I can’t live with the fact that you make money off of that too.
This stunt you pulled in January sent me into a deep depression because I realized I had no control of my body. My bodily autonomy depends on if you approve life-sustaining medications I need. I plead and I wait for someone to help me resolve this so I can simply live. I am beholden to you and you exploit it.
Can you imagine how that feels? To feel like your body is unworthy of life because Big Brother is denying you access to medication that allows you to live? To feel like the quality of your bodily health is controlled by someone who only sees you as a case number? I’m pretty sure there isn’t a medication to treat that feeling — and if there is, I bet you took it off formulary on Jan. 1.
I write this not for pity, acknowledgement or sympathy; I write this because I live this. I share this with you, Anthem, to record the facts of what is happening to the people you claim to serve. Yes, you approved Corlanor in the end, but at an inhumane cost to me.
This is why I sincerely ask: Where do you get the audacity? What would happen if I didn’t have the resources to fight this? If I didn’t have my mom calling you while I’m in class, my doctor writing exhaustive letters, his sweet nurse fighting you on her day off and people who love me telling me not to give up? What would I do? The twisted thing is you know exactly what would happen — I would be forced to give up taking the medications that allow me to live which makes you more money.
Don’t even tell me you’re doing the best you can, because you aren’t. I don’t want to hear that you’re struggling because Anthem made a record $144 billion in 2022.
I know that the one thing I cannot do is stay silent, for myself and for the millions of people to whom this happens every day. Sometimes, that’s your only recourse when someone hurts you: to make your hurt and suffering known. To share that pain. To redistribute it to its rightful owner. At the very least, to be loud and make it known.
It’s a fact that you put millions of Americans through this every day, and you know that oftentimes what kills patients such as me isn’t our illness — it’s waiting on a prior authorization from you.
Writer’s note: Feel free to reach out to Chronically Catherine if you’re also a student with a disability working to coexist with daily adversity without losing sight of your fabulosity — email@example.com or @itschronicallycatherine on Instagram.
Catherine Ames is a senior writing about life as a young person coexisting with chronic illness in her column, “Chronically Catherine.”