About a hundred years ago when Crabby Old Lady was a young woman – girl, actually, no more than a teenager – first living on her own, she overspent on her first credit card. The debt was so large that for the better part of a year, young Crabby lived on cottage cheese and crackers and gave up everything that was not essential until the bill was paid off.
Even though she told no one about her trouble, Crabby was deeply embarrassed at her stupidity. In fact, you are the first people who know of this.
That period was so painful, both financially and emotionally, Crabby swore never to allow it to happen again. Since then, she has used credit cards only as a convenience and except for a few emergencies through the years (when credit saved her ass), she has never owed more than she can pay in full each month. Her credit rating is so good that when she needed a short-term bridge loan three years ago to cover the time gap between purchasing a home here in Maine and the closing on her apartment in New York, the banker said, “You have an awesome credit score, Crabby.”
It doesn't take much these days to harm a credit rating, and it's not like Crabby has a rich family or a sugar daddy to call on when things go wrong or there is an emergency. So she guards that score closely. With it, she knows when there is need, as with the bridge loan, she can get the money easily and quickly.
When Crabby switched to a new Medicare Part D (prescription drug) provider in December, she elected to have the premium deducted from her Social Security benefit which is deposited electronically to her bank account each month. On Wednesday, when the January deposit was made, there was no deduction. Crabby Old Lady's personal financial alarm bell went ding, ding, ding.
When she explained her concern to the provider's customer service representative, she told Crabby that it would take up to four months (!) for Medicare and, separately, Social Security to approve the premium deduction. And meanwhile? Crabby asked. Would the provider, having received no payment, cancel her coverage and report nonpayment to the credit agencies?
To forestall that, the representative said, it would be necessary for Crabby to pay the insurance company herself until the deductions begin.
More alarm bells went off. In a flash, the following went through Crabby's mind:
- She was not told, when she enrolled in the Part D program, that she would be required to make the payments by check for several months.
- Because Crabby opted for the deduction, she did not receive premium coupons.
- She doesn't trust the provider to give her the correct mailing address for the premium payment and it could easily be routed to the wrong place. The provider might cancel her coverage for non-payment.
- Even with correct payment, it was likely, four months hence, that Social Security would deduct premiums for all of the four months.
- It would take months, if not years, of hassle to get either Social Security or the insurance company to return the double payments.
- Crabby's pristine credit score could be trashed.
When she expressed all this, the representative told her she works for a third-party service and could help Crabby no further. Crabby waited the standard 15 minutes after she was transferred to the insurance company.
New representative, same questions, different answers: It takes only two months for approval from Social Security and Medicare. No, she should not make payments herself. Her coverage “should” not be canceled during the wait for approval.“Should” not be canceled? Is that certain? Crabby asked.
Probably reading from a script, the representative again said, “Your coverage should not be canceled.”
“Find me a supervisor,” said Crabby.
Standard 15-minute wait.
New representative, same questions, some different answers: It takes 90 days for approval from Social Security and Medicare. Do not make payments. Coverage will not be canceled and non-payment will not be reported to credit agencies.
Which of all these answers, Crabby wonders, is correct?
Taking Murphy's Law into consideration, Crabby made careful notes of these three conversations so she will have the (conflicting) information if trouble ensues. And there would be trouble for sure if Crabby had listened to the first representative and mailed payments - the first of which, this month, is already overdue and would be subject to a late fee.
You might think, as does Crabby, that this is an old story – screw ups from large companies that are liable to cost you money and if not that, certainly waste time. (In Crabby's case, she used up about an hour of her monthly cell phone minutes allotment.) But it becomes more serious when it concerns the health of old people.
Sometimes third-parties – spouses, adult children, friends, etc. - handle personal business matters for elders. Some elders have cognitive difficulties. Some may not have a firm grasp of English. In any of these circumstances, misunderstandings are bound to happen and undoubtedly some number of people lose coverage along with their prescriptions, incur additional costs or spend months sorting out problems only because the company is not clear about its policies.
All it would have taken to prevent confusion, Crabby's irritation and lost time was a short paragraph in the insurance provider's form letter of acceptance explaining the delay in the premium deduction and how it should be handled. That three representatives each had different answers is unacceptable. Isn't there a minimum standard of competence to be expected?
Certain members of Congress, teaparty members and assorted anti-government types have warned, during the debate on health care reform, that government-run health care would be rife with bureaucratic red tape. Crabby understands this is anecdotal evidence but in every dealing she has had with Medicare and Social Security representatives, the issues have been thoroughly and completely explained and nothing has ever gone wrong. The kind of minor mess Crabby experienced yesterday (and worse sometimes) is common with every private insurance provider she has dealt with.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT
Some old-time movie fun - Ruby Keeler and Lee Dixon dancing to Too Marvelous For Words from the 1937 film, Ready, Willing and Able. The chorus line keys are sensational.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Shirley Karnes: Trees in December