Over the years, my children and I have had to face a great many medical problems, and they haven't exactly been routine--or even what you think.
Sometime in the mid-'90s, my husband came home one evening and said he wanted to purchase a "small life insurance policy" on me "to cover the cost of having a nanny" to take my place if anything should happen to me. I was (and am) in excellent health and questioned this expense, but my husband insisted, saying such a policy was also "good for investment purposes". Eventually I gave in and agreed to let him purchase the policy, and he said he was buying it through the brother-in-law of one of his business partners. A few days later, this brother-in-law called and insisted on coming to my house at 7 PM to do a mini-physical for the policy. Most of this physical was routine, but I thought it was odd that the insurance agent insisted on swabbing my cheek for DNA. Later, I was surprised to learn this policy was for far more than my husband had told me (and that there were other policies on my life I hadn't even known about; see earlier post).
There was so much chaos in our lives and so many strange things were happening to my children and me in the months after my husband suddenly left in 1999 that it took a while to realize these strange happenings also extended to our visits to the doctor. One of the first signs something was seriously wrong was when I realized that every time I saw a doctor, they were now insisting on my having either a gynecologic exam, a mammogram, or a colonoscopy. At first I could chalk these up to genuine concern for my having regular preventative health care, but it quickly became excessive. Eventually, I confided my discomfort about all the medical tests being ordered for me by various local doctors to a local "insider" friend (also see my 6/23/09 post below) who shall remain unidentified for obvious reasons. I was seriously shocked to be told that these examinations of me were being filmed and provided to my ex-husband and his associates for their viewing pleasure! My friend also told me that everyone involved (and there were apparently a lot of people involved!) would deny knowing anything about this if asked and that if I tried to file complaints about it, the entire community would label me paranoid and no one would believe me. Upon hearing this, I did recall people around town making snide remarks related to things concerning these exams and realized to my horror that my friend was telling the truth. Needless to say, finding out about this was extremely upsetting and disturbing, and it put me off medical exams to the point where I haven't had any of certain types in years as a result.
My children also began having "medical problems" after their dad left. By the terms of our divorce agreement, my ex-husband was required to provide our children with health insurance, but for some reason he refused to do this, insisting I pay cash for all our children's medical expenses and then reimbursing me when I sent him the receipts. Usually he sent me reimbursement checks for these expenses fairly promptly, but sometimes he would refuse to reimburse me for unknown reasons. I could never discern any kind of a pattern to this; as far as I could tell, he simply reimbursed me when he felt like doing so. Eventually, the problems with receiving reimbursements and problems with our kids' schools and colleges requiring proof of health insurance at various times caused me to send my ex- a certified letter demanding he provide the children with coverage. When he ignored this, I filed a complaint with the Texas OAG. My complaint was ignored, but my ex- suddenly did provide the children with insurance cards for temporary policies that were paid month-to-month. We quickly discovered these policies were not being renewed. My ex- also told our children who were in college to inform their schools that they had health insurance, but the schools checked the policy information my ex- gave them, discovered the policies were not in effect, and billed us for their required coverage instead (which my ex- did pay). Eventually I filed another complaint with the state, and my ex- did finally provide some health insurance for the kids. I continue to be reimbursed for prescription and other expenses for the kids on a sporadic basis.
When one of my children needed a lab test done, we were shocked to discover that their lab slip listed my former brother-in-law (an attorney) at his own address as the person financially responsible for my child's account. I was the only person who'd ever brought any of my children to this doctor, I'd listed myself as the responsible party when we filled out the initial forms with this doctor, I had not listed anyone else on the HIPAA form I signed as having permission to receive information, and my former brother-in-law had/has no legal rights regarding my children or their finances, so I was furious about this. I immediately took the slip back to this doctor's office and confronted them about the matter. The receptionist became extremely agitated and tried to grab the slip from me and destroy it, but I insisted she return it to me; she finally did so only because other patients in the office were taking notice of the fact that I was complaining about possible federal violations, but she insisted on marking through the illegal name and address first.
We've had too many other strange medical-related experiences to list in their entirety, but some of them also bear discussing. For example, when one of the children needed minor surgery in San Antonio, my ex- and his mother showed up, but my ex- was immediately asked to go to the front desk and talk with security guards who then followed him around closely all day--even when he went to the restroom. Also, when the doctor came out to talk to us after the surgery, my ex- was asleep and snoring in his chair, so the doctor talked to me alone while my ex-'s mother tried to rouse him. The doctor told me that in thousands of surgeries over the years, he'd never had anything like that happen before.
Over the years, one of our children has had some potentially serious medical problems that need looking into, but I've found it impossible to have accurate evaluations done. The first time I tried, a San Antonio specialist diagnosed a specific condition, but my ex- immediately contacted a specialist in Dallas on his own and insisted we fly up and meet with him. This doctor saw my child for approximately 10 minutes total in an exam room in a busy ER, did one lab test he claimed was new and definitive, and pronounced my child free of the condition. Eventually (and this took a couple of years), I was able to obtain a referral to a third specialist who pronounced the Dallas text unreliable but then gave me a vague explanation of my child's other test results, said my child didn't have the condition, but then prescribed a medicine to treat it anyway. Recently I heard the San Antonio doctor who first diagnosed my child with the condition is no longer practicing medicine locally for some reason. Also, it's important to note that if my child does have the condition involved, their health insurance costs would probably rise dramatically.
On another occasion, one of the children became quite ill while visiting their father, who called a local doctor-friend. This doctor called in a prescription for antibiotics for my child despite the fact that we'd switched to a different doctor several years earlier and without even examining the child. The medicine he prescribed made my child worse, and I filed a complaint about this with the state medical board--but they refused to do anything.
Then there was the time the school nurse called to say she needed an updated copy of one of my children's immunization records, but when I called the doctor to get them, I was told the records couldn't be given out. I knew this wasn't true but wasn't sure what to do, so I called the school nurse back and asked her about it. She told me the doctor was required to provide me with the records and gave me contact information for the state health department if the doctor refused again, so I called the doctor back. This time I was told my child's records had been lost, so I told them the school had given me information on how to get the state to force them to turn over the records. A few minutes later, the doctor's office called me back with the news that my child's shot records had miraculously turned up.
Our most recent medical problem also happens to be one of the most serious. One of my children has had repeated bouts of pneumonia severe enough that we'd been sent to the local emergency room for immediate treatment straight from the pediatrician's office a number of times. These episodes were very frightening, and I began to wonder why this child was getting so sick so often. I talked to a doctor we've been seeing for a long time and asked for a referral.
Months went by without my hearing anything, and I'd all but given up on getting any help when I suddenly received a letter in the mail from the doctor referring us to a specialist in San Antonio. I immediately phoned the specialist's office to make my child an appointment but was told they couldn't make us one because they required a written referral from a physician and hadn't received one for my child. I faxed them the letter I'd received, and I also left a message at the referring doctor's office. The referring doctor soon called to say he had personally arranged my child's referral with the specialist and had sent her a letter as well and didn't understand what the problem was, so he'd called her back again and was told I could now call back for an appointment, which I did. After all the problems I'd had, I was pleasantly surprised to be given an appointment almost immediately.
This appointment turned out to be very strange indeed. First, we were given a mountain of forms to fill out (more than I'd ever seen before and many that seemed redundant), all of which my child and I filled out together. Next, while an assistant was administering various tests to my child, she yelled at them at the top of her lungs repeatedly (it was almost screaming) for some reason, which was extremely disconcerting and totally unnecessary--unless she was trying to be overheard by someone in another room or outside. Then we were sent downstairs for some additional tests by a different doctor, and when I asked for the forms to fill out, I was told this had already been taken care of and that my child's bill had already been paid. (I hadn't written any checks, so I assumed this meant my child's latest insurance card from their father was actually good for once.)
We ended up spending the entire day there but never saw the doctor until late in the afternoon. When we were finally shown into an exam room, an assistant came in and began asking more questions related to the forms we'd filled out. Finally, the doctor came in and introduced herself. She mentioned that her husband had a doctorate in engineering, and then she proceeded to ask both of us more questions. Gradually it became apparent that many of these questions had nothing whatsoever to do with my child's medical problems or history or their family history and were more the sort of questions my ex-husband would want answers to: did I have a boyfriend, what was I planning to do after my children all left home, would I be remaining in Central Texas, etc. The doctor and her assistant seemed to be taking turns coming and going from the room for no apparent reason as if they were being coached by someone nearby. I also noticed that someone appeared to be communicating with them on a computer in the room.
By the time we left this doctor's office, it was after 5 PM and my child and I were exhausted. As we headed home, we got stuck in rush-hour traffic, and I finally had a chance to reflect on the day's happenings. We were almost home when I suddenly realized that despite all the other forms we'd been asked to fill out, we'd never been given a HIPAA form to sign, which I knew was a clear federal violation.
The more I considered what we'd been through, the more certain I became that my child had been the victim of multiple serious federal privacy violations by this doctor and her staff. At the very least, I knew for certain we'd never been given a HIPAA form to sign and that my child would also back me up on this. I went online, got the information and forms for filing complaints, and noted that my HIPAA complaint was to be sent to an office in Dallas rather than in Washington, D.C.
I then filed complaints against the doctor and her office with both the feds. and the state medical board, and I also sent a copy to the doctor who'd referred her to me, along with a letter stating that we couldn't go back to her and would appreciate another referral. The referring doctor called me right away, was extremely apologetic about what had happened, and promised me another referral. (Later, he gave me one to a completely different type of specialist, for some reason.)
And my complaints? A few days later, I received a letter in the mail from the state medical board saying it had been investigated and thrown out after someone went to the specialist's office and found there was in fact a signed HIPAA form in my child's file. Since my child and I knew we hadn't signed one, we wondered if a form signed by my ex-husband or someone from his family had been placed in the file, so I faxed the HIPAA office copies of my referral letter and my child's school excuse form from the doctor's office that clearly stated I was the one who had brought them, not someone else. Of course I never heard anything else back from them and I never heard anything back at all from Dallas.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention one last thing regarding this incident: the letter closing the medical board complaint was signed by a woman with the same somewhat unusual last name as a close pilot friend of my ex-husband's who also happens to be in real estate and has lost his Texas attorney's license. All of the doctors my children and I see no longer give us HIPAA updates to sign, and we all continue to be unable to obtain proper medical care.
Update: I did eventually hear back from the Dallas office on my federal HIPAA complaint. They said the same thing as the medical board: that the doctor's office did have a signed HIPAA form in my child's file, so they could not substantiate my complaint. We know this has to be a lie or a forgery. Also, the letter I received about this arrived having been illegally opened by someone and then glued back together so crudely that the letter was glued to the inside of the envelope from the excess glue and I had a great deal of trouble extricating it without tearing it. (I still have this if the postal inspectors want to examine it.)