Patient advocate Trisha Torrey: Don’t blindly trust health care system
For Trisha Torrey of Baldwinsville, N.Y., working as a patient advocate is personal. In 2004, she was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening cancer at age 52. She was told she needed to immediately start chemotherapy.
Rather than trusting the lab reports, Torrey educated herself, researched, asked questions — and determined she didn’t have cancer. After the National Institutes of Health confirmed that she had been misdiagnosed, she set out to empower other patients.
She’s now a prolific writer and national speaker on the subject of patient advocacy. InsuranceQuotes.com spoke with Torrey about her work and how patients can become more proactive when it comes to their health insurance.
InsuranceQuotes.com: It seems like self-education and perseverance were the keys to getting through your ordeal. Is that central to what you’re trying to accomplish as a patient advocate?
|Patient advocate Trisha Torrey advises consumers to “really sit down” and do a thorough analysis of their health insurance needs.|
Trisha Torrey: It really is. I think that there’s a bigger picture, though, meaning two things. Number one, it’s a matter of sounding the warning bell that we can’t just expect to get the kind of health care that people my age and older used to get.
If you talk to people from our generation, I think what you’ll find is that we sort of point to this person called Marcus Welby, who was a TV doctor who was very benevolent and paternalistic and, “There, there, everything will be alright.” That’s the kind of care we used to get. Now, all of the sudden, we who are in our 40s and older are thrown into this health care system that isn’t that anymore. We trust a system we shouldn’t be trusting. What I’m trying to say to people is you need to take responsibility for a lot of the care yourself. You’ve got to be participating in the decision-making. So yes, absolutely, self-education is needed for that participation.
InsuranceQuotes.com: You mentioned that we’re trusting in a system that we shouldn’t be trusting. Why shouldn’t we trust this current health care system?
Torrey: Let me rephrase that and say we’re trusting a system we shouldn’t blindly be trusting. What I preach is trust, but verify. Don’t assume there’s a problem. But don’t assume there’s not a problem. It’s about taking responsibility — that’s what I say to people. We used to put the responsibility in the hands of our providers. Now I’m saying we need to take responsibility ourselves and trust the providers to help us out.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What are some of the common mistakes you see consumers making when it comes to their health insurance?
Torrey: When it comes to health insurance, the biggest thing they’re not doing is really choosing their options. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to about this. They chose a health insurance option maybe when they first went to work for their employer and they didn’t really know what they were doing, so maybe they chose the one that had the lowest monthly payment, the smallest premium. A lot of people will never really sit down and do an analysis of whether that’s the best policy for them and whether it’s the least expensive policy over the year.
Just because the premiums are low doesn’t mean you’re going to get off scot-free without paying a whole lot more for your health care.
InsuranceQuotes.com: So, are you giving people the tools to make that informed decision about their health insurance?
Torrey: Yes. I’ve actually built a step-by-step guide to figuring that out on About.com. Figure out who your doctors are that you want to see. Look at your options and see which ones cover those doctors. Then figure out how many times you went to the doctor last year, figure out how much you spent on prescription drugs, and you can look at all of those and figure out which is the best plan for you.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What is your view on the federal health care reform law that was passed in 2010?
Torrey: What most people don’t realize is that health care reform isn’t about reforming health care. It’s about reforming the cost of health care. I think that if you asked 100 people on the street, 90 people would say that it’s going to reform health care and it’s going to make it so much better. The fact is, all it’s really going to do is upset the apple cart for a number of years until it finds its own level. It’s about reforming how health care is paid for.
I tell people that if you remember it’s about money and not about lives, then you can see why decisions are being made the way they are and why it’s so difficult for there to be a meeting of the minds.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How do you see health insurance being affected by the federal health care reform law?
Torrey: First of all, I’m one of the believers that everyone has to have health insurance. I am a supporter of health care reform, but I’m a believer that everyone has to have health insurance, so I’m also a believer in the combination of public and private. That said, I think that there are an awful lot of people who have tried to make health insurance the bad guy and, in truth, health insurance is only the bad guy because they’re an easy target. And when they go to defend themselves, they say all the wrong things. I’m a PR person at heart, so I just cringe when I hear what comes down the pike.
InsuranceQuotes.com: How does the experience you went through with your misdiagnosis continue to shape your work today?
Torrey: First of all, it’s made me extremely passionate. This isn’t like a job. You know how people ask the question, “If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you go back to work?” My answer is yes. I could win the Mega Millions and I’d still be doing what I’m doing. I’m that passionate about it.
The other thing that really drives me is that I hear from people who say, “Thank you. You’re the only person talking about this out there, and it’s really helped me.” There are more people who are starting to write about these topics and speak on these topics, which has been very helpful to me. It’s been really nice to collaborate with them.
It also shapes my work in terms of rubbing elbows with some of the people who can really make changes in the system. For instance, I’m on Twitter. The people I’m connecting with on Twitter aren’t patients. They are policymakers, policy influencers, statisticians; they are working for nonprofits where differences can be made. I can learn from them, and they can learn from me.