Monday, December 3, 2012

The Life Insurance Questionnaire

So tonight I had to answer some medical questions over the phone to some poor sap probably not making much more than minimum wage. From the way she read the questions, I could tell she was relatively knew at this. The questionnaire was for a new life insurance policy my wife and I are applying for. I had to answer questions about doctors, medical history and diagnoses.  I knew this was going to get interesting when the first question was about medication.

Luckily, this is coming now and not at the time a few months ago when my pill intake was over 40 pills a day.

So I rattled off my list:  Imuran, 100 mg.  Prednisone, 10 mg.  Flagyl, 250 mg three times a day.  Prevacid, 30 mg.

She then asked me the diagnosis that the medicine is treating.

"Crohn's," I replied.

"When were you diagnosed with Crohn's disease?"

"In 2000."

"What symptoms did you have to prompt that diagnosis?"

"I had some pain," I replied.

"Just pain?  Anything else?"

I paused.  I wasn't sure just how much information I was to give.  How detailed should I be?  Did I need to tell her about mucous poops?  Or the times the toilet bowel looked like something from one of those Saw movies?  I decided to go easy on her.  "And frequent elimination," I added.

"Frequent elimination?"  She was quiet for a moment, as if looking for something on a computer screen.  "Did you say elimination?"

"Yeah."  It was silent on the other end.  I could hear the keys tapping.  She was trying to find the box to check off on the form, undoubtedly.

I decided to help her out.  "I shit a lot," I explained.

"Oh," she said with surprise.  I heard some keys tapping and imagined with a slight chuckle a box on a computer screen somewhere in a dark room with the phrase "shits a lot" suddenly checked off.

Then she asked about diagnostic tests.  Oh, boy.  Where to start?  I listed off colonoscopies.  One in 2010.  2008.  And every two years before that.  Sigmoidoscopy in 2012.  Endoscopy in 2012. Exploratory surgery in 2012.  A CT scan in 2012 for a suspected fistula.  That was negative, I quickly added.  Three CT scans in 2010.  Stress test in 2010.  Another one in 2012.

"What were the stress tests for?" she asked.

"Costochondritis," I replied.

She paused, looking for a list on her screen.  "Can you spell that?"

I did and then explained that it is inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage.  Back in May of 2010, I experienced severe chest pain and was brought to the hospital in an ambulance (I didn't mention that part.)   The CT scans revealed nothing abnormal.  And it was decided that the inflammation was probably related to the general inflammation I had as a result of Crohn's.  Nothing wrong with my heart, I assured her.

"What was the stress test for in 2012 then?" she asked.

"Oh, that.  I was experiencing pain and palpitations."

"Costo...whatever it was?"

"No.  It was the result of the large dose of prednisone that I was on at the time.  And the stress, most likely, during a particularly bad flare up."

"How often do you experience flare-ups?"  she asked.

I paused and thought about it. And the truth was, I really wasn't sure. The worst flare up I had was a year ago. I missed a couple of weeks of work as the Crohn's moved to my lower colon. That was when they had to go in and look at the inflammation and ulceration in the lower colon. I haven't had a severe flare since, but I have been on numerous medications since then, including a whole regimen Chinese herbs and ointments that I have since stopped.

I rarely get flares in the summer.  Probably because I am off from school.

I flare up in the Fall, usually. The Spring. The severity varies. Sometimes food can be a trigger, of course, but I didn't want to go into that whole history.

"About once a year," I said.

After answering some more questions about doctors and family history, the interview ended.  Now some stranger who I will never, ever meet knows a hell of a lot about me.  More than most people, actually.  And all of that data about tests, doctors, medicine and symptoms are now part of another large database.  My personal experience will soon be categorized and quantified; my weight, height and medication transformed into numbers that will be added to spreadsheets and risk assessments.  Everything I am will be reduced to a formula and that formula will determine how much I will have to spend on life insurance so that my family can be secure in case something happens to me in the near future.  Or if medical bills need to be paid.

How much risk is a Crohn's patient worth?  That is what someone, somewhere sitting in a cubicle staring at those numbers will determine.

Generally, I am pretty healthy.  Except for the Crohn's, of course.  But that doesn't matter to a number cruncher.  Life insurance companies are in the business to make money, plain and simple.  My experience---rattled off through a phone interview and a physical examination next week---will be reduced to a single number that represents my worth to someone who really has never met me.

But they have met Crohn's.

And to them, that is all that matters.

1 comment:

  1. And as I listened to your side of the phone conversation I heard "cha-ching, cha-ching" during each pause. We'll see if we need to stick with the old policy. Stay tuned!