Employer buys robotic feeder for Illinois man after insurance fight

PALATINE, Ill. — After a battle with his insurance company, a suburban man’s employer has purchased the robotic arm that helps feed him independently.

Earlier this year, Kevin Sullivan, 31, shared his story with WGN News over wanting to keep using the Obi, which is a robotic feeding device. Sullivan lives with a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC) that affects his muscle tissue.

Growing up, Sullivan relied on his parents to help care for him. Now, home aides, whom he mostly has to pay out of pocket for, help with many tasks

He recently came across the Obi online and contacted the company for a demo.

“I’ve never fed myself before so just having that ability to do it even for an hour,” Sullivan told WGN News. “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 of Florida in March.

His letter was denied right away from an office in South Carolina. 

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

After seeing the story, Sullivan’s manager, Olga Rissin, at the shipping company DAT wanted to help. She got the company to purchase the $9,700 device for Sullivan and it’s expected to arrive within two weeks.

“He is an absolute rock star nothing short of rock star. He is handling a very complex territory and doing that amazingly well,” Rissin said.

For his first meal with the device, he honored his late grandmother who recently passed.

“I asked my mom to make my grandmas’ French toast recipe she used to make for me when I was a kid when I’d be home sick from school. She came through for me on that it was delicious one of the best meals I’ve ever had,” he said.

Sullivan filed a third appeal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida and was denied.

“That’s something as a country ,as a society we need to find a fix for. We can’t keep telling people with disabilities to live as independently as possible and then deny them the tools to do so,” he said.

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