Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sleep Apneopoly?

I went to the doctor's office the other day to see if I could get tested for sleep apnea. I'm almost certain I have it. It's an annoying sleep disorder that makes me stop breathing in the middle of the night, then have a jolt as my body panics from lack of oxygen. It makes it so my sleep isn't as restful as it should be. Everyone who's slept near me says I have it. 

The appointment started with answering what seemed like hundreds of versions of the same two questions on a handheld computing device from the '80s (do you get sleepy a lot during the day? do you snore or stop breathing a lot in your sleep?). Then, another lady and I watched a 19-minute educational video (that's VHS) about sleep apnea, complete with overly dramatic re-enactments and testimonials. This other lady had it bad. Her regular breathing sounded like the average person's snores after a night of heavy drinking. She actually fell asleep during the video, which I found hilariously appropriate. 

After the video, the lady in charge (I don't know what she was, a nurse, a technician, a specialist, but not a doctor) came in and gave a spiel about treatment options. There's surgery, a mouthpiece, or the dreaded CPAP machine. This doesn't include behavioral changes like weight loss, restricting alcohol intake, and sleeping on your side. So, to my surprise, most insurance, including my own, does not cover surgery or the dental piece, because they are not proven to be effective, but they do cover the CPAP machine, because it's a sure thing, or so the nice lady said. It costs about $600, not including the recommended humidifier attachment before insurance.

So nice lady took snore-breath lady to another room to talk individually, and I was left to wait. In the room where I was waiting, I noticed that all the posters on the walls, all the pamphlets, and all of the devices laid out had the logo "ResMed" on them. This is the company that makes the CPAP machine. I don't like being marketed to in my doctor's office. It seems like there should be no place for that when my health is at stake. It seems this is too much to ask, though. When I got my turn with the nice lady, she told me I'd be scheduled for a sleep study, and that my insurance would cover the breathing machine if I needed it. So that was that. I left the doc's.

Now, something does not sit right with me about this whole CPAP machine thing. The lady who saw me seemed more sales rep than medical professional. All the obvious branding and single choice of CPAP brand set off my corporate bloodsucker alarm. The fact that insurance companies don't cover the options that don't involve selling me an expensive machine just because the other options aren't proven to work made me more dubious. Doctors hand out stuff that they're not sure will work all the time. That's like half their job. Trial and error.

So, don't get me wrong. I'm gonna try it. None of the cost comes out of my pockets, and the potential benefit of getting a completely restful night's sleep for the first time in my life is pretty appealing. I'm definitely NOT excited about sleeping with an ugly, uncomfortable-looking mask on my face every night for the rest of my life (especially since I'm an avid cuddler ... TMI?). I'm just concerned at another possible example of insurance and medical supply companies treating me with the most profitable method, and not necessarily the best. I can't wait for healthcare reform, man.

1 comment:

Andrew B. Watson said...

I never noticed this in the years I've lived with you in the dorms and college/post-college houses...sorry to hear that you suffer from it.

Have you ever tried accupuncture?
I've known people to have a whole slew of random disorders, etc. cured from it. Although insurance most certainly won't cover anything 'holistic'. What a scam. Your post hits the nail on the head. It's all a sell. Make money, bottom-line.

Be dubious. Question those who evaluate 'your' health. Get a second, a third opinion.

But on the note of health care reform, (while necessary) be wary of universal health care. Opposite to my beliefs of open questioning and evaluation of your health-care-provider's competance and motive ... being forced to only go to 'this doctor' or 'that clinic' because the government does not allow for private health care decisions by its citizens has its own dangers of profiteering and sketchy service.

But we do need some sort of regulation or reform.

Thanks for the great post. I hope you get better and can find the sleep-induced peace you deserve.