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Getting a Second Opinion While on Medicare

Getting a Second Opinion While on Medicare

Have you ever considered getting a second opinion? My mom did. According to this interview by CBS News, getting a second opinion could save your life. We can't say with certainty that getting a second opinion saved my mom’s life, but she has never regretted her decision to get one. Because she had a Medicare Supplement, she was able to get one. A network plan isn't required to allow them. 

Shortly after going on Medicare at age 65, my mom went to see her doctor because she lost the ability to taste. While she was there, they examined her and ran some tests. The tests revealed something far more serious than the thrush that was affecting her taste buds. They discovered that my mom had a major aortic aneurysm and a faulty heart valve. They wanted her to schedule open-heart surgery for the following Monday! It was a lot for my mom to process, so she told the doctor that she needed to go home, get her affairs in order, and discuss this with her daughters before scheduling the surgery.

Mom did just that. In fact, when she told my sister and me about her doctor’s recommendation, she said she thought it might be wise to get a second opinion. After all, this was going to be a major surgery! There were decisions to be made about what type of heart valve would replace her poorly functioning one. There were also risks involved. This wasn’t going to be the type of heart surgery that can be done without opening the chest. Mom’s would be the more invasive procedure. We agreed with her decision to get a second opinion but advised her to get it done soon.

open heart surgery


Since she had heard great things about Mayo clinic, and she lived near La Crosse, WI at the time, Mom made an appointment with a cardiologist at a branch of Mayo in La Crosse. Her Medicare supplement has no network restrictions, so it didn’t cost her anything out of pocket to see him. He agreed with the first doctor, that mom needed open heart surgery, but he wanted to address her thick blood. The technician told my mom that hers was “world record thick”. Not good for a heart valve surgery. Mom felt a bit more at ease, knowing that they were concerned about her being prepared for this major operation.

Mom decided to have her surgery performed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, by one of the top heart surgeons in the country. Her Medicare supplement allowed her to plan her surgery in another state, because it works anywhere in the country.

The surgeon was very clear that my mom was to quit smoking for three months prior to surgery or he wouldn’t to it. At the time, my mom was smoking a pack of cigarettes per day. He felt that it dramatically increased the risk of complications when surgery was performed on a smoker. My mom had been smoking for 50 years, but this doctor was able to convince her that she had to quit, and she had to quit now. After that conversation, my mom never had another cigarette again!

During the three months leading up to surgery, it was discovered that my mom had severe, undiagnosed sleep apnea. This was most likely contributing to her aneurysm. The lack of oxygen was causing her body to over-produce red blood cells, giving her that “world record thick blood”. In fact, her sleep apnea was so bad, they wouldn’t let her go home after the sleep study without a C-pap machine! It made a huge difference in her oxygen levels and her energy levels. Having normal oxygen levels would surely help with her post-surgery recovery.

Fast forward to the day of the surgery. Mom had been prepped for surgery and was being wheeled down the hall. The doctors paused to let us hug and kiss her, wish her luck, and assure her that we will see her soon. She had just been given a sedative. There was going to be a whole team of surgeons for her operation. They were telling us that mom’s aneurysm is so large that they might not have enough room to clamp off the carotid artery for surgery. If that were the case, they were going to have to lower her body temperature for surgery and it will take longer--up to 8 or 9 hours. Yikes! This is what they told us right before we waved goodbye and watched her disappear around the corner. Everything was surreal.

Hour after hour we watched the clock. We were on pins and needles. We had no idea how long the surgery would take. 3 ½ hours later, we were called into ICU. They told us the surgery was a success! They said they had just enough room to clamp off the carotid artery. One of the surgeons on the team told us that Mom’s aneurysm was the 2nd largest one he had seen in his 12 years of performing open-heart surgeries! We were so relieved that everything went well, and we were so thankful that she had her surgery at Mayo Clinic.

It is now six years later. Mom is fully recovered and has a new lease on life. We will never know what the outcome would have been if Mom had not sought a second opinion. Her case turned out to be even more severe than we were originally told. I would like to think that the doctors in the first network would have at least discovered the thick blood. But did they have experience with such a large aneurysm? Would mom have recovered as well had she not quit smoking? Would they have discovered her sleep apnea in time for surgery?  The most important thing is that everything worked out well.  However, we are very thankful that Mom had the kind of insurance that allowed her to choose her surgeon. We are also thankful that everything was covered by original Medicare and her Medicare supplement. Instead of worrying about medical bills, she was able to focus on getting better. That’s the peace of mind you get with good insurance like hers.

Do you have a story to tell? We would love to hear how your Medicare supplement insurance gave YOU peace of mind. Whether it’s because it allowed you to get a second opinion, because it covered preventive tests not approved by Medicare, or because it paid for an expensive procedure, we’d love to hear about it! It can be several paragraphs or just a few short sentences.



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