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Are Standard Insurance Practices Aiding Drug Overdoses?

A story released today by CNN, outlined the unfortunate outcome of insurance reimbursement checks being used by a struggling addict as money for drugs, eventually leading to his death.

Joseph Hockett II

Joseph Hockett II had a lifelong struggle with drug addiction, which was a 16 years long struggle, having an impact of several nights in jail, about twenty drug rehab attempts, and two prison terms. As Jennifer Alba, Joseph’s grieving mother, sifts through bank receipts left by her son, she pulls out one deposit slip of $33,000. Joseph Hockett II was a DJ, who played music for dive bar events and strip clubs— on a good night, Joseph would make $100 for his work. So, how did he make such a large deposit?
Joseph Hockett II’s insurance provider, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, had sent him the check for $33,399.76 for the emergency care Hockett received when he broke his jaw, seven months earlier. Receipts from the bank, show that Joseph had made three cash withdrawals, totaling $13,000. Joseph Hockett II was found dead on September 2, 2017, one day after his last cash withdrawal.

The Binge

Receiving such a large sum of money, especially for an addict, puts people in an extremely tempting and dangerous situation. Addicts are being put at risk with these indirect methods of reimbursement for out-of-network care services.
Joseph’s mother says her son had used this insurance money to go on the “biggest binge of his life.” A bottle of whiskey and a rolled-up dollar bill were found next to him when housekeepers of the Suburban Extended Stay of Wilmington found him dead in room 135. An autopsy report concluded that the cause of death was a cocaine and heroin toxicity, or overdose. How was this binge possible? Joseph Hockett II’s insurance company sends checks to patients for out-of-network care providers, instead of reimbursing the providers directly.

Why are Insurance Companies Doing This?

Another source for CNN told the news channel that her family member received a check for $240,000 after an out-of-network surgery. Surely, this practice has been under speculation lately, as the indirect reimbursement in some cases forces providers to sue patients in order to recover the money. So why are some insurance companies using this indirect method of care reimbursement? Some say that it’s a way to pressure care providers to join their network and in turn, accept lower payments. Despite whatever motivations this practice may have, it is putting patients in dangerous positions— and even life-threatening circumstances.

What do these Insurance Companies Say?

The insurance industry maintains a position that sending a check directly to the patient, is “designed to protect patients from surprise bills and exorbitant charges from out-of-network doctors and hospitals” (Drash).

What Jennifer Alba has to Say About Her Son’s Death

Alba says her son was the last person who should ever receive such a large, lump sum of money, “I didn’t realize insurance would be part of his death” she said, after talking about how she helped Joseph Hockett II sign up for insurance to avoid the tax penalty that came with the Affordable Care Act (Drash). Jennifer describes her overwhelming state of grief, brought about by her son’s death almost two years ago. Jennifer Alba experiences anger towards Blue Cross Blue Shield, because their standard practices gave her son the money that killed him. Of course this money wasn’t Joseph Hockett II’s to have, so why was it sent to him? This practice by insurance companies is giving addicts the means to purchase and use drugs in a volume that is sure to lead to their overdose or death.

Putting Money in the Hands of an Addict

So how careless is this practice? Insurance companies are putting large sums of money in the hands of people who are struggling with addiction, or just people who may find it easier to cash the check for themselves instead of paying the out-of-network providers of care they visited. Joseph Hockett II’s mother uncovered a money trail from Blue Cross Blue Shield, with the following resources sent directly to her son who was struggling with addiction:

  • a check from April 2017 for $6,096.14
  • a check from June 2017 for the amount of $14,104
  • this check arrived shortly after Joseph checked out of rehab, following a relapse. Blue Cross Blue Shield actually funded at least one of Joseph Hockett II’s rehab stints.

  • a spreadsheet showing that Blue Cross owed Hockett II $73,400.01 for about three dozen medical services in 2017
  • Nearly a year after his death, Blue Cross Blue Shield sent Joseph Hockett II’s estate a check for $2,496.95. His mother, Jennifer Alba, says that she is aware of at least $56,096.85 in checks being sent to her son by his insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield.

    Did the Insurance Company know Joseph Hockett II was an addict?

    To make this process even more upsetting, Blue Cross Blue Shield was aware that Joseph Hockett II struggled with addiction, yet still sent him multiple checks totaling over fifty-six thousand dollars.
    Having a company who you are supposed to trust with health, send your son or daughter, large sums of money while they are deep in addiction is a parent’s worst nightmare. “Why would you give a person with mental health and addiction problems cash like that?” she asks. “It’s careless. It’s morally wrong. It’s horrible. I don’t know of any other way to put it,” Jennifer Alba says (Drash).

    What Does Blue Cross Blue Shield Have to Say About This?

    “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina refused to answer questions about Hockett. The insurer also declined to discuss why it sent large checks to someone with addiction problems, whether checks have been sent to other people struggling with addiction, or whether anyone else has overdosed and died after receiving such sums” (Drash).
    A representative for the insurance company, Austin Vevurka, said they try to “negotiate with out-of-network providers for urgent or emergency care on amounts over $25,000. But,” he said, “if they refuse, we pay the member because that is who we are contractually obligated to pay.” The representative continued, “We have applied this policy to numerous providers in the state and have typically successfully negotiated payments directly to the provider as a result,” (Drash).
    Senior vice president of the North Carolina Healthcare Association says that “Blue Cross is using the patients as a bargaining chip” (Drash). We believe this is the most careless modern practice of insurance providers, which is not only endangering people but using them as a pawn for their own company’s gain. This is the most selfish, careless, and immoral standardized practice we have seen in recent health news. Our heart goes out to Jennifer Alba and Joseph Hockett II’s loved ones, no mother should have to grieve her son.

    Joseph Hockett II’s Legacy

    Jennifer Alba refuses to let her son’s death be forgotten. Alba continues to fight for the morality of insurance companies, hoping to change their policies and hopefully spare lives of other addicts. Jennifer Alba reminisces of times with her son, recalling that Joseph said “that he hated being addicted and that if he ever overcame his addiction, he hoped to become a substance abuse counselor” (Drash). Alba is fierce in her approach to bring awareness to this hushed topic, and wants other parents to know the dangers of careless insurance company practices.
    The last text Joseph Hockett II sent to his mother read “I love u mom”, to which she responded “I love u”
    “Joseph Hockett II would be found dead around midday the next afternoon, on September 2, 2017. Alba remembers looking out her front window. Three police officers were standing in the driveway, their heads hung.
    She instantly knew.”
    Joseph Hockett II’s story broke our hearts. We mourn him and stand by his mother as she continues to fight against the unfair practices of major insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield.
    Rest in Peace Joseph Hockett II
    Drash, Wayne. “Insurer Sent $33,000 to a Man Struggling with Addiction. He Used the Cash to Go on a Binge — and Died.” CNN, Cable News Network, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 23 Apr. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/04/23/health/anthem-blue-cross-payments-patient-overdose/index.html.
    Our commitment to providing comprehensive addiction treatment that helps addicts and alcoholics overcome their addiction is a dedication that we will never break. If you, or someone you know, needs addiction treatment, please reach out to us at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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