Suburban man fighting insurance over device that feeds himself

PALATINE, Ill. – One local man is fighting his insurance company over a robotic arm that would help independently feed himself.

Kevin Sullivan, 31, of Palatine, works in logistics for a shipping company and strives to be as independent as possible. He was born with a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC) that affects his muscle tissue.

“It makes it more fibrous which causes contractures and general weakness and it affects all of my activities of daily living,” Sullivan said.

Growing up, Sullivan relied on his parents to help care for him.

“They would shower me, get me dressed, feed me my meals, prepare the meals, do my laundry,” Sullivan said.

Now, home aides, whom he mostly has to pay out of pocket for, help with many tasks and Chris Timonen is one of them.

“He told me one time he said he’s never had a meal by himself,” Timonen said.

Recently, Sullivan came across Obi, which is a robotic feeding device.

“I was like ‘wow this could really improve my life,'” Sullivan said. “So I jumped on it right away and started looking at what I needed to do to get one.”

He contacted the company and set up a demo.

“I’ve never fed myself before so just having that ability to do it even for an hour,” Sullivan said. “That day was pretty incredible.”

On the website, it lists Sullivan’s specific medical condition as a listed candidate for the $ 10,000 device. Around 10,000 Obi users have been reimbursed through private insurance.

So Sullivan submitted a letter of medical necessity signed by his doctor and physical therapist to Blue Cross Blue Shield in March.

It was denied right away.

In the letter, the Obi was considered a “non-standard or deluxe, and is not a covered benefit.”

“I think that’s corporate jargon a reason from a company that just wants to pay as little as possible,” Sullivan said.

Andrew Webb, a lawyer who is blind and works for Equip For Equality, said the story does not surprise him.

“Having access to this kind of technology is absolutely critical for people with disabilities to be functional, to achieve the dream of living as independently as possible, Webb said. “It’s just such a shame.”

Sullivan has filed his second appeal, hoping the Blue Cross Blue Shield will change its mind.

When reached for comment, Blue Cross Blue Shield refused, citing HIPAA.

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