I haven’t posted here about my health issues in a while. But, recent events have made it difficult to avoid this “conversation.”
I became disabled in November 2017. Consequences of chemotherapy and radiation therapy after Breast Cancer Surgery have been numerous and complicated. A short list of health issues caused by these treatments includes: Raynaud’s Syndrome, Hyperthyroidism, Essential Tremors, Peripheral Neuropathy, Degenerative Joint Disease, Grade 1 CHF (at this time, Mild Left Ventricular Diastolic Dysfunction–Doxorubicin is known to attack the heart), Short Term Memory and Concentration issues, Osteopenia, Depression, and Anxiety.
I was a Clinical Informaticist. In my job, I was responsible to read the Federal Register as it related to health care issues for both 100 + hospitals and 2000+ clinics. I then interpreted the new or changed regulations, worked with clinicians to determine how best to incorporate these changes into the various electronic health records in order to avoid interruption of workflow and excellent patient care. Once there was agreement about the proposed changes, I was responsible to mock up screen shots of how the changes should look in the electronic health records and give these to the analysts who would program the changes. I also monitored compliance with these regulations, creating reports that were used to identify areas of concern, after which I worked with the individual clinics and hospitals to develop methods to increase acceptance and use.
I was responsible for millions of dollars of CMS incentives for the corporation for which I worked. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my job, it was a stressful one. I returned to work after an initial leave of absence during my cancer treatments. However, over time, the issues above began to make it difficult for me to perform my job to the level of perfection that I had for myself. It began to be obvious to the people I worked with that my memory issues were a problem, and my inability to “find” words became well known. Luckily, there were people who were always willing to finish my sentences or interject a proper word when I was unable to find it. I was grateful for these kindnesses. But these people could not read the FR for me, and I would spend hours reading and trying to understand the regulations–sometimes reading a paragraph over and over without being able to grasp the meaning of what I read.
My job required that I sit almost all day on the computer. The Essential Tremors began to make this difficult as I was unable control the movements of my hands and fingers. I often right-clicked when I should have left-clicked, and I would try to type a report, look up and see 25 “X’s” that weren’t supposed to be there. The arthritis in my hands, particularly in my thumbs, became more and more painful and further limited my ability to constantly be working on the computer. Raynaud’s instances became more and more frequent, forcing me to stop working until I could regain the circulation in my hands/fingers. My manager suggested that I take a leave of absence in hopes that time away would allow me to get away from the stress of my job and possibly help me to regain some of my lost functioning.
I first went on a personal medical leave, then a short-term disability. When the STD was up, my symptoms and functioning had not improved. In fact, more issues had cropped up. I experienced excessive sweating and shortness of breath with even the slightest exertion. My arthritis became increasingly more painful. I could no longer type on the computer–I now use a microphone to “speak” my posts and other communications. I then applied for Long-term Disability benefits through my employer. Although the coverage was provided through my employer, applying for these benefits meant termination of my employment. I had to file two appeals in order to receive benefits. My physicians (and there are quite a few of them…) were appalled that they would deny me benefits. When I was finally approved for benefits, I received a letter stating that my initial term would be 24 months and that benefits would continue if I was still unable to perform my job duties.
Last week, I received a letter from Prudential stating that my benefits would be terminated on April 29, 2020 (a day after my 68th birthday). The reason provided was that the policy provisions only allowed for 24 months if the disability started at age 65. I had never been told about this provision. In fact, the approval letter stated just the opposite. Finding out about this with only 5 months of benefits remaining was devastating.
Losing this benefit means I will need to sell my home as my SSA benefit just barely covers my house payment. There is no way I can survive on an additional $200 a month–that doesn’t even cover utilities. It has been difficult to survive on 60% of my salary. I can’t even imagine where I can go to live that SSA alone would be sufficient. I certainly can not continue to live in Colorado where housing prices are astronomical. I now have important and life-changing decisions to make and only 5 months to make them. Selling a house in Colorado will not be easy in the winter…
I have filed a claim with the Colorado Insurance Commission. They have send a request to Prudential for all documents concerning my LTD. I have also filed an appeal with Prudential (which they have already denied). I don’t really have any other alternatives. My Rheumatologist told me yesterday that he thinks I can apply for SS Disability because I was disabled when I was 65. I’m waiting for a call back from them as I speak this.
I certainly don’t expect anyone to read this entire monologue. I just had to get it off my chest. Not that it solves anything… But, at least I feel like I have told my story. And I hope this helps anyone else out there who may be dealing with the same issues. DO NOT take an approval letter at face value. Make sure you get a copy of the policy–which I was denied at the time. My apologies for the length of this post.
My one consolation right now is my view of the Rockies out my back door.