Oak Park resident Aaron McManus recently took the inadequacies of America’s health care system to task, racking up nearly a million views on TikTok in the process. The non-binary father (whose pronoun is “they”) turned to the video-sharing service after receiving a $40,000 bill to remove a cancerous tumor the size of a football — a bill that their health insurance provider refused to cover.
“I feel like I’m being treated like a customer complaining because I didn’t get enough ketchup on my hamburger,” they said of their insurance provider. “It’s actually like, literally, my life and death here.”
McManus, who has stage 4 cancer, didn’t expect the story to go viral when it was shared on TikTok via the account ‘aaronwontshutup’, but it caught the attention of hundreds of thousands of sympathetic viewers – and eventually got the insurance provider to back down.
“Huh. They’re making it as hard as possible,” TikTok user Luke Neal responded to McManus’ Oct. 22 post. “Cruel how the strategy is to wear us down.”
McManus turned to TikTok only after the traditional way of disputing a health insurance claim proved fruitless. The 41-year-old’s story began last June when McManus was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. A massive 15-centimeter-long malignant tumor was found on a kidney, which had to be surgically removed.
McManus had been cleared for the procedure through Elevance Health, then known as Anthem Blue Cross. They underwent the surgery on June 24 at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital and stayed an extra day in the hospital at the doctor’s request.
In August, Anthem Blue Cross declined to cover the costs, deeming the surgery and subsequent hospital stay not “medically necessary.” According to the claim McManus shared with the Wednesday Journal, McManus was on the hook for everything from operating room services ($11,602) to anesthesia ($6,305).
“So I called them and said, ‘Hey, I guess it’s a booboo,'” McManus said.
The appeal was filed by telephone on August 3. That appeal resulted in Anthem Blue Cross upholding its original decision to deny coverage on the recommendation of a family doctor who reviewed McManus’ records on appeal.
McManus was notified of this decision in a letter from the insurance company dated September 2. The letter states that an extended hospital stay is considered medically necessary only when such serious problems as infection, pain and bleeding exist.
“The information we have does not indicate that you have had these or any other serious problems,” the letter said. “For this reason, your request to remain in the hospital on and after June 25, 2022 is denied as it is not medically necessary.”
That reasoning didn’t help McManus, who took the fight to TikTok. McManus’ first TikTok post for Anthem Blue Cross was on September 8. The video received approximately 40,000 views that day – and counting. Several concerned TikTok users flooded the comments section demanding accountability from the insurance company, tagging Anthem’s account. Hundreds of people called and emailed Anthem as well, according to McManus.
“I was really surprised that so many people stopped scrolling and actually called.”
McManus received a call from Anthem shortly after the video was posted, and they said a billing error had been made by the doctor. McManus also received an official letter from the insurance company that the correct documentation had been received. All McManus had to pay was the $61.32 copayment.
The letter was dated October 21, just two weeks after a follow-up computer scan found six malignant nodules in McManus’ lungs. The cancer had spread.
No apology was extended to McManus in Anthem’s letter, a copy of which was provided to the Wednesday Journal. The letter also does not explain why the error was not discovered during the original appeal. Instead, the letter thanked McManus for their “patience”.
Unsatisfied with that response, McManus turned to TikTok again. In a video released on Oct. 22, they criticized Anthem for its lack of compassion and condemned the entire American health care industry for prioritizing profits over people’s health.
“This lack of empathy is an institutional problem,” they said.
The video went viral again, surpassing the views of the first TikTok related to McManus’ Anthem. As of November 21, the video has nearly a million views and over 7,000 comments, proving the power of social media.
Anthem representatives were not available for an interview. However, the insurance company apologized to McManus in a statement.
“We regret that this has caused stress at an already stressful time and our care team continues to liaise and work closely with Mr McManus to guide him and help him access care, information and the answers he needs,” the statement said, while maintaining that the insurance company was not to blame for the error that caused the company to initially deny coverage to McManus.
“Due to incorrect information provided by his doctor, Mr. McManus was billed based on this inaccurate information,” the statement said.
Placing the blame squarely on the doctor didn’t sit well with McManus, who called the move “ridiculous”. And while they have no problem filling out insurance paperwork before a claim is finalized, McManus called it “absurd” that Anthem expects them to pay $40,000 because the insurance company didn’t get the proper paperwork.
“But the reality is that they did not raise this issue with the documents at all; they denied the allegation and said it was their final decision,” McManus said. “To TikTok.”