When all the debates were going on about healthcare reform last fall, I noticed the insurance industry was getting increasingly defensive.
Like, why do you Americans hate us so much when we’re only trying to take care of you?
And, well, if it’s so bad being insured by us, why does everybody complain about not being insured?
And, why don’t you go live in some socialist country with government medicine if you hate us so much?
You know, things like that. I just sat in front of the TV sulking, since I was so sick and tired of hearing the sound and fury of tiny little minds invariably connected to large, braying mouths. It had been ages — months, I think — since I’d had any run-ins with my own insurance company or my father’s. I could forget about them and concentrate on the more obvious villains and imbeciles of the day called Republicans. It was, now that I recall it, a moment of relative zen.
No more, no mas. Just last week — a pretty bad week, to begin with, I should mention — I got a bill from our family practitioner. On top of the co-pay I’d already ponied up for while in the office, I owed a low three-figure sum for the remainder of my regular physical exam. According to my insurance company’s refusal, I’d already had a routine physical exam earlier in the year.
Oh, yes. I got it. They must have been referring to my rather unpleasant experience with a New York doctor, when I was billed an exorbitant amount and told, too late, they didn’t take the kind of insurance I had and would I please produce the magical sum of $1,019? Oh, yeah, how could I forget? I’d almost had a nervous breakdown on the Upper East Side.
All of this led to a small round of magical thinking, which happens now and then, even when you’re as hardboiled and uber-realistic as I like to think I am. Out of sad desperation, I’d sent the bill to my insurance company, hoping I’d at least get some kind of smarmy sympathy card. I’d heard nothing back, not even, Tough luck, Toots.
But here was proof! My insurance company had heard from me, they’d felt my pain, they’d reimbursed the bill! I should be getting a check soon — it was just a matter of how much!
So, I called the toll-free number for my insurance company and ended up talking to Amy, who I’m sure was probably old enough to vote, but you couldn’t tell it by her voice. Amy had to get off the line to check to see how much of the bill had been reimbursed, then got back on the line with the good news it was $264.
“You sent $264 to the doctor in New York?” I asked, quickly moving into my default, well, it’s better than nothing mode (a well-worn place where I spend much of my life).
“Oh, no!” Amy chirped. “We didn’t pay. We just applied it to your $2,500 deductible for out-of-network coverage.”
“Well, that’s kind of funny,” I said. “You didn’t pay the New York doctor anything, so the insurance company isn’t out any money, right?”
Right, Amy said. She still sounded quite happy. That’s what happens when you work in one of the “helping” professions, I’ve heard.
“So, if you’re not out any money, why aren’t you paying for my physical in Austin?” I asked.
“Because you’ve already had one this year,” Amy said.
We talked and we talked. I tried to call Amy’s attention to the fact that my GOOD FAITH NOTIFICATION to the insurance company had ended up costing me. “And all the time, we keep paying our monthly premiums,” I pointed out. “And got no benefit.”
Amy said well, it was too bad I looked at it that way, but it was company policy. Then we both fell silent — something I’m terrible at, unless extremely provoked, but I was going to be damned if some teenager was going to out-silence me. So, the silence wore on and the line crackled and finally, Amy broke and said it had been nice speaking to me and she hoped I’d get in touch the next time I needed to.
I said that — in case she hadn’t noticed — getting in touch with the insurance company IN GOOD FAITH seemed to be costing me money, so I probably wouldn’t be calling again. Amy wished me a good day and I kind of hung up on her.
Hung up on her, the little twit, and thought for the first time in my life that I’d rather be watching preening Republicans yammering on TV than trying to communicate with some lightweight who probably hadn’t made it through puberty yet, but was part of the black hole industry that is bankrupting this country.
“You know, this is exactly why people hate insurance companies,” I’d thought about saying to Amy.
But then, really, why bother?
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)