Monday, November 2, 2009

Part of Healing: One Fine Irish Fit

For nine days, I have excelled at passivity. I’ve read, visited briefly with friends, napped, devoured many bowls of many different kinds of homemade soup and watched television. (How about those great “Glee” cast members singing the national anthem at the World Series!)

This morning, I started a revolution.

This morning, I called Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the offices in Iowa to discuss the level of coverage provided for mastectomy bras and prostheses. I know that eventually, I will have to stop living in the recliner and begin to engage with the larger world again. I’d like to have the right underwear before that happens.

A customer representative at my health insurance company informed me that though the typical Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy covers the cost of six mastectomy bras/camisoles and two prostheses, my company’s policy covers one bra and one prosthesis -- every two years.

I happen to be grateful that I have health insurance -- but one bra every two years? NO bra – if you wash it -- lasts two years. Also, mastectomy bras are pricier than regular bras. And one of anything is never enough for me!

Quality prostheses run about $250-$300 each, and doctors recommend that you have two in case one is lost or damaged. I’m not sure how a prosthesis might get damaged, but they can get lost. Bobbing in the ocean one day some years ago, I met a woman in hot pursuit of her prosthesis, which had just floated out of her swimsuit and was quickly heading out to sea.


“Thank you,” I said to the representative. “I am hanging up now and writing a letter to the CEO of Lee Enterprises, who happens to be a woman.”

Though I doubt that Mary Junck is aware of the skinflint nature of this particular clause in the insurance contract, I am certain that it is my responsibility to tell her about it. So I did.

In the letter, I quickly filled her in on my story. I told her about the phone call to Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield. And then, I wrote this: “I am writing today to ask Lee Enterprises to offer what other companies typically cover for women who have lost a breast to cancer. Thank you for your consideration.”

That’s it. I did not hurl invectives – and I love hurling a good invective – and I did not indulge in name-calling. I want Lee Enterprises to adjust the coverage for my sake but also for the many women who are less likely to be able to afford to buy what they need in order to feel good about living lopsided in a symmetrical world.

I sent copies of the letter to the director of human resources and the director of benefits at Lee Enterprises. I sent a copy to the business representative of The Newspaper Guild, which is my union. Then I alerted my female colleagues, including retirees and women still at the Post-Dispatch, about my actions.


Florence wrote back immediately. “Send pix of the two-year bra,” she said. “Must be titanium.”


  1. Only a man would write a policy with a provision like that. Amazing to me that some people truly don't think the insurance companies are the bad guys in all of this. Duh. You should have done some name-calling. You're too nice.

  2. I admire your restraint. I hurl invective, curses, and threats at insurance companies on a daily basis...having health insurance provided by people who make money denying health coverage is Orwellian, Machiavellian, and every other negative ellian you can conceive of (or, of which you can conceive, since I am communicating with a writer)