Saturday, January 12, 2008

Organized Stupidity

It's one thing to have stupidity present. It's another thing entirely to institutionalize it.

Case in point: We made the mistake a year ago of signing up for one of those IRS-approved Flex Spending Accounts for medical expenses. Such expenses do add up, and the advantage is supposed to be that you pay for them through this account with pre-tax dollars, therefore saving you money. I did the math, concluded that this could be true for us, and calculated a pretty darn accurate figure to have diverted from my wife's salary (since it's through her employer) into this account. The kicker, the dangling carrot, if you will, was that now they gave you a debit MasterCard which you could use at the health care provider (another overdone term that has crept into the vernacular) and access those funds directly. It sounded cool at the time.

Never, never get involved with one of these; what a mistake that turned out to be. For every single expense, down to one under $4.00, they insist on you providing more documentation than the IRS itself would ask for. What with the enormous amount of time I've spent dealing with this bureaucracy, and my time being valuable, I figure that we've actually lost money. In fact, we nearly lost a lot. We had a series of disputed amounts that added up to quite a bit. Specifically, $2,480 of our money. I had to send in the documents four times, the last one with an ugly letter saying what I was going to do if they didn't get it right this time.

Son of a betcha thought I was gonna swear! I got an update notice from the bureaucracy today saying that our submissions have been approved and that payment is pending. All $2,480, which has been already paid out of our pockets because the card stopped working early in the year. Naturally, I'll believe it when it's in my hands, banked & collected (like I trust the fools), but apparently someone must have read the part of my cover letter that said where I'd begin filing complaints. Either that, or we just got lucky for a change. I'll take it either way.

Naturally, it's the beginning of the year, so something on the health coverage just has to be changed. This time, it's the company serving prescription coverage. Now, this is a sensitive issue because the raw retail cost of what I take each month is rather a lot. Of course, drug prices are obscenely overblown here, but still.... our out-of-pocket is about $250 a month for all that, UNLESS you use the mail-in service which will save you 1/3 of the cost for most of what I take, because they'll send you three months' supply for the price of two (with me so far? LOL). Well, last year's company was so incompetent on the mail-ins that we gave up on it. However, for this year, they made a bureaucratic blunder: They accidentally went back to the company that's been by far the best in our experience. Imagine that! Let's see, that means we could save.... well, somewhere around $700 right there. In plainer English, I am expensive and a lot of trouble to have around. Whereas before I needed these medications, I was merely a lot of trouble.

Everything, it seems, is getting dumbed down, and this whole experience I've been having with these people is just another example. The basic forms you have to fill out are actually pretty simple (the rules and demands for accompanying documentation are more complex), so an "average" clerk ought to be able to dispense with one of those claims in maybe 5 minutes. Personally, I could do it much faster. However, these people take days, weeks, and in some cases, most of the year before getting it right. Where did they find these people? Another thing to beware of: The low bidder on a government contract. You can't even talk to these faceless (and nameless, as they don't tell you what it is in order not to be held accountable) drips on the telephone. That leads to a whole other set of headaches.

At least the medical plan covers the headaches. That's what some of the medication is for.

Isn't it aggravating when you call some business or agency (first, having to endure their automated answering systems, which is bad enough) where their "service representatives" don't know as much as you do about what you're talking about? Then there are their "scripts", which they deny having, but I used to work for a large corporation and I know that they swutting well do. The scripts are clearly designed for the lowest-common-denominator customers, and the clerks are so thick that they can't talk "off the page" and try to force you through the "stupid" path, refusing to actually listen to what you're saying, lest, all the gods forbid, they should wind up thinking. I mean, are people really that stupid? OK, maybe not the fairest way to put it. Yes, there are certainly SOME people that are that stupid. But, are there so many of them that it's necessary to construct all of society around them? Yes, there's plenty of evidence that there are that many, and a lot of this evidence is displayed at the voting booth. And television ratings. Why do people watch drek "reality shows"? Star-search me. Anyway, surely these people I've been dealing with are inbred relatives of the all the ones you've been dealing with in other places. Walk across the gene pool of your average telephone customer service representative or middle manager, and you won't even get your ankles wet. Where is Bob Barker when you need him? "Spay and neuter your morons", he would say. Maybe. If the price was right.

Today, one of the ultimate insults occurred. I don't know if you have this where you are (and I hope you don't), but now some companies are using automated dialing systems that call your number, and when you pick it up, they tell YOU to hold while you wait for the next available rep. What in the zarking fardwarks??? Do NOT call my phone and then tell me to hold; how rude can you get? I'd have hung right up, but I'd just been dealing with that other idiocy, and I let the woman who came on have it. I was loud, profane and probably abusive, and yelled at her to never again do such a thing. The nerve! If I call someone & am asked to be put on hold for a moment, fine. As long as I'm not left there interminably, I can have some patience for a working person. However, I'M the one who pays for my phone, and I'll be damned if I'm going to hold for some solicitor who shouldn't be calling me anyway, because I'm on the "do not call" list for solicitors. These same people who don't seem to understand the meaning of the two-letter word "No". Smoothly (for once), they move into the "overcoming objections" portion of their scripts, and won't be derailed by you saying "Excuse me? Didn't you just hear me say 'No!'?" Funny, I could swear that "no" means "no". Negatory. Unh-unh. No dice. Forget about it. Eventually, you often have to resort to rudeness, either by simply hanging up (which is your right, since it's your telephone), or by shouting them down and telling them to stop it! The latter happens more often for me, because I want to make sure that they take me off their calling list. "After the Apocalypse is when it's a good time for me", I say.

This is of no help, of course, when you're the one calling and you need something out of them, such as finding out if they've lost your paperwork (of which they disapprove merely because it represents some actual work they'll have to do) yet again. "Well, surely it must be your fault, sir; it says so right here on the script on my screen". It's enough to make you want to bite through steel.

But you can't, because your dental plan doesn't cover that.

Besides, that would mean dealing with the dental plan's bureaucracy, which is separate from regular health care, and they have their own fiendish methods of driving you mad. And they don't even give you a "happy" sticker anymore when you've had a good check-up.

I suspect that the whole purpose of this intricately-woven idiocy is to get you so frustrated that you'll give up, and then they don't have to give you any service at all, even bad service, and they get the bonus of keeping your money.

Well, it's not going to be that easy with me for these brain-impaired "friends". One, I don't give up easily. Two, from past work experiences, I know "where the bones are buried", I know exactly which people and agencies to complain to to make their lives miserable. I'm fair about it and let them know this, and tell them quite plainly that it will be much simpler for them if they just do what I'm asking them to do. Now & then, that works. Now & then, I go straight from a dimwitted supervisor to thermonuclear tactics. Do any of you want to waste portions of your life dealing with untrained parrots who never listen? 'Cause I don't.

The maddening topper to all this is that they could do better, but they won't. It's enough to give you an ulcer. But watch out; there's a clause in the health insurance plan that says they don't have to pay for injuries that they cause you, unless, for some reason, it involves a ficus tree.

Maybe I shouldn't have planted that one by the front door.