Warning. This blog is boring. Unless of course you happen to be one of the millions to experience the frustration of dealing with a health care company on the telephone for hours on end, threatening your mental stability, and sending you screaming to the liquor cabinet while tufts of your recently torn out hair drift to the carpet. If that’s the case, dear reader, and you need a little misery-loves-company hug, read on.
Back in the day, when my former employer, AT&T, paid my health care premiums as part of my retirement package, life was good. When friends told me they were paying six–hundred, eight-hundred, a thousand bucks a month or more for insurance, I would shake my head in sympathy and mutter things like, “So sorry to hear that.”
Then along comes the Affordable Care Act. It seems that AT&T found some clauses they believed would take a little bigger bite out of their billions in net worth and so they threw up their hands and declared, “Sorry boys, we know you retired with our assurances that all would be taken care of, we got you covered and all that, but who knew what that rascal Obama would do? Good luck. See ya around.”
And so it came to pass that several thousand of us ex-Bell Telephone folks were directed to contact the AON Retiree Health Exchange to set us up with a supplemental health care plan as our secondary insurance to Medicare. From AON, we received lots of literature featuring happy, smiling white-haired couples–very similar to the ads you see put out by the casinos when their customers allegedly hit the jackpot. In fact, I’ve come to believe they are in fact, the same people.
The options were many. You could choose the top of the line and pay out the nose or, if you were feeling lucky, a lesser coverage for a lower rate. Knowing full well I couldn’t pick a winner if the only options were heads or tails, I went with one of the better coverages and chose Blue Cross – Blue Shield as our supplement. Our applications were forwarded to BCBS and time stamped as being received on Nov. 6, 2014.
The saga begins. (I am not making this up.)
A couple weeks later, I find a phone message from BCBS. “There seems to be a question with your wife’s application. Please call.”
I do. The dude who answers is at a loss. “I don’t see a problem. It’s in the process.” A small glitch, nothing more.
On or about, Dec. 1, I received a large white envelope from BCBS stuffed with information booklets, a membership card, and instructions with options on how to make my premium payments. I wrote them a check, used their self-addressed envelope, and waved bye-bye to the money. The Missus however, did not receive a large, medium, or small white envelope of any kind. Hmm.
The days pass. Still no mail for the Missus. The phone calls commence.
Dec. 5: After the usual menus, dropped calls, and agonizing waits, we talk to Trina.
“Can you give me her membership number.”
“She doesn’t have one, Trina. She has nothing from BCBS.”
“Could I have her personal information again?”
We dance around for a while before Trina assures me there is no problem that she can see, but then remembers how their mailing department is flooded with end of year applications. “She should have it within a week or so.” The fact that I already had mine had no bearing. Okay, okay. Whatever. I’ll watch the mailbox.
December 17: No packet. “Blue-Cross, Blue Shield. My name is Haley. How can I help you?”
We do another info exchange, name, date of birth, address, and yeah we know, this call might be monitored.. Like the others before her, Haley has no clue to the missing packet. “I’m so sorry you’re having this problem. I’ll send another packet today. You should have it in7 to 10 days.”
December 29: No packet. “Hello, this is Jessica.”
“Jessica, darlin’, I’m in desperate need here. Two days from now our old insurance expires. As of now, the Missus has no health coverage with Blue Cross. Can you help a fella out? I’m thinking FedEx overnight .”
“I’m sorry we can’t do that. Long pause. “You should have the packet by now. I’ll send another one.”
“Is there a supervisor I could talk to.”
Really? I hang up and mix a spooker, a double.
January 8, 2015: No packet. “Hello, my name is Latoya. How may I help you.” I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and begin. And bless her little African-American heart, Latoya listens to my every word. I finish my plea with, “Latoya, we keep sending the packet over and over again and expecting different results, very similar to the definition of insanity. There has to be some explanation for this.”
I’m on hold. By now, I’ve begun to better understand the program and have learned to mix my drink before ever picking up the phone. The golden liquid in the glass is getting dangerously low before Latoya returns.
“Is your mailing address in Houston, Texas?”
“WHAT? TEXAS?” No, no, no. Oklahoma, we’re in Oklahoma.”
Latoya tried to explain. What I understood was that my address in one of their departments was different than the one in another department. Was this the mysterious problem for which I received the first phone call? “No matter,” Latoya says, “I will get this straightened out and send you another packet.”
If you’re counting, this be will packet number 3.
January 15, 2015: No packet. I have my limits. Patience be damned. I’m calling again.
“Hello, my name is Aaron.” Aaron doesn’t want to hear my sad story or my claims of gross incompetence on the part of BCBS and how I hope they spend the rest of their miserable lives waiting on a nurse to remove a nasty bedpan. I didn’t actually say that, but Aaron sensed it. Aaron makes no apologies and again assures me the packet is on the way, but just to appease me, he’s sending another packet (#4) and we will have it by the 24th of the month.
January 22, 2015: No packet. At this point, it is clear that even though the Missus has a temporary ID number (thanks to Latoya), she is not on the books as a paid member of BCBS. After all, she has not received a bill for a premium payment much less paid one. Using a theoretical, suppose she went to the hospital today for a major surgery. I look at the bill and say, “Folks, you don’t understand. This is covered, it’s just that she hasn’t received her freakin’ enrollment packet yet.” Laughter echoes down the halls.
I decide on a new tactic, a backdoor approach. Instead of the 1-800 enrollment number, I go with the local BCBS in Tulsa. They’re neighbors. They understand the Okie language. Yes. Confidence is high. I dial a 918 number.
“Hello, this is Beverly.” It went downhill from there
Beverly tells me that because I have called so many times, it has screwed the system up. “Every time you request another packet, it cancels out the previous packet.”
“You talking to the wrong department. You talking about a supplement to Medicare coverage. You need to talk to Medicare.”
“Huh? But Bev, Medicare is not the one I pay the premium to. BCBS, your company, is the one who issues the supplement. That’s where I got my packet. I need a packet for my wife so she can finish her enrollment with you guys.”
“You need to talk to Medicare. Hold on. I’ll get them for you.”
Sweet Baby Jesus.
Back on hold, I have plenty of time to mix another spooker, put some food out for the birds, and run a dust rag around the office.
Beverly comes back. “I’m still waiting for Medicare to answer.”
Of course. I start on a new novel.
Just as I was about to nod off, a Medicare rep says. “How can I help you today?”
Knowing full well the futility of it all, I relate my tale of woe.
Rep. “That’s a Blue Cross problem. Why are you calling Medicare to enroll in Blue Cross?”
“I have no idea, Ma’am, no idea at all.”
The Missus calls out, “Where you going?”
“Liquor store. Gotta hurry. They close in twenty-minutes.”