Wednesday, February 13, 2002

I GOT YET ANOTHER "mistaken" medical bill on Monday, this one from the for-profit venture behind my very good primary-care physician. (Look, Charlie Brown, let's face it: We all know that health care is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know.)

This time I started out pretty calm (if you call racing for the phone calm) but got progressively more wigged out as I kept reaching the same voice-mail greeting, like the Jon Favreau character in "Swingers." Between noon and 4 p.m. I probably placed 50 calls. I left two messages for the same person, whose greeting promised a call-back by 5. I finally figured out that if you I played dumb with the voice-mail menu and acted as if I didn't know my doctor's name I actually get to talk to a real person — who then sent me to the voice mail of a different customer-care representative. I left only one message for her.

Finally I caught the real person pre-transfer and said, "You know, the person you transfer me to doesn't answer her phone." Real Person was very nice and said she'd see what she could do about pulling up my record.

As much as I hate on-hold music — and, even worse, the "Your call is very important to us" recording — I do want some feedback while on hold. Otherwise, as I did on Monday, I'm sure I've been cut off and I brace for the "DO-DO-DOOO! If you'd LIKE to make a call, please hang up and try again. If you NEED help, hang up and then dial the operator."

But eventually Real Person came back on the line to say she hadn't forgotten about me. Then she went away for another good long time. When she came back, she said it appeared that the bill had been sent in error. I thanked her and hurried to get dressed, as it was past time to leave for work.

As I became really late for work, the phone rang. It was customer-care rep No. 2. Her reading of the situation was that my insurer had rejected a charge but failed to say why. She said she'd get back to me.

Amazingly, she got back to me. In a short, to-the-point voice-mail message, she said the bill had been sent in error.

Again it was a happy ending, but it provided more evidence for my suspicion that, especially in slow economic times, managed-care companies and their accomplices conveniently send out bills that might get challenged but might just as probably get paid. Spend 100 stamps on fraudulent 80-buck bills and you need only one sucker to turn a nice profit.

After the '80s boom, my insurer did this to me over and over. It was even sneakier, sending out things that looked like bills but really weren't. No fraud there! I've changed jobs a couple of times since then, and my new insurers didn't do that. Until now. Hmm.

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