North Carolina man struggling with addiction dies after using $33K BCBS check to buy drugs

In late August 2017, Joseph Hockett II deposited more than $33,000 into his bank account after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina reimbursed him for emergency care. Days later, Mr. Hockett, who struggled with addiction, used the money to buy drugs that led to a fatal overdose, according to CNN.

Mr. Hockett, who was found dead from cocaine and heroin toxicity Sept. 2, 2017, made three cash withdrawals totaling $13,000 in the four days before overdosing. BCBS' total check — $33,399.76 — was more than Mr. Hockett made in a year.

The check was for out-of-network emergency care he received seven months before his death after breaking his jaw in a bar fight. Instead of paying the hospital, BCBS of North Carolina sent the checks directly to Mr. Hockett. BCBS of North Carolina had recently covered at least one of Mr. Hockett's rehab visits in the months before his death, and his mother told CNN the insurer knew about his addiction struggles.

Sending patients checks for out-of-network care rather than reimbursing providers is a tactic some health insurers use to pressure providers into joining their networks, according to some critics. Sometimes providers have to sue patients to retrieve the payment. However, the insurance industry argues that the policy is aimed at protecting patients from surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers.

In a statement to CNN, BCBS spokesperson Austin Vevurka said, "While we cannot comment on the specifics of a case due to privacy laws, we recognize this is a tragedy and extend our condolences to the family." The health insurer did not answer questions about why it sent the large checks to someone with known addiction struggles, whether this has happened in other instances, or if anyone else has experienced a fatal overdose after receiving large reimbursement checks.

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