Thursday, March 25, 2010

This Just Keeps Getting Better and Better

* Stringham high: Springtime
* Stringham low: Cold, cold rain and collections agencies
* Stringham super-high: Thoughts of warm, sandy beaches and saltwater spray

I got another letter today from the same collection agency as last week—-this time for the Beltway Surgery Center bill—the surgery for my eyes. This collections agent was a little nicer, listening and taking more information from me, and gave me the name of the representative at the collection agency who would be handling this "account," so that was helpful. The agent told me that the hospital obviously thinks Medicaid isn’t going to pay, if they’ve turned the bill over to collections. And she asked if I knew why Medicaid had denied paying the bill. (Yeah, right, because they tell me.) But I explained all about how IIH is covered by pregnancy Medicaid and that the vision problems necessitating the surgery on my eyes were caused by the IIH. (I have explained this to I don't know how many people, but it never seems to matter. Maybe someday it will sink in somewhere and make a difference.) The agent said she’d pass that information on to the representative and said it might have just been a billing code issue that needed to be worked out by the hospital and Medicaid. She still tried to tell me that if Medicaid doesn’t cover the bill, I will be responsible for paying it.

Hmm, hospitals and collections agencies tell me I’m responsible for paying, but Medicaid representatives tell me I’m not. Who to believe?

Also had a very enlightening conversation today with someone at my chiropractor's office who keeps getting bills from the first doctor who sent my account to collections. This person keeps getting bills for tests that are done for their child (who has a chronic condition and requires constant testing and follow-up) and that this doctor then reads--apparently, that's all this doc does, that's all he did for me, read an X-ray and a CT scan. Yup, this person keeps getting bills from the doc that say they are required to pay the balance because their insurance company didn't cover, yadda, yadda, yadda. We wonder if this doctor is trying to double bill people. Wouldn’t be very nice of him. Or, come to think of it, maybe it's just ineptitude--maybe his office just doesn't know how to bill properly and he keeps going after the poor schmucks who had no say in who was to read their scans. Either way, it's not very nice or responsible.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Something is Broken

* Stringham high: Spring
* Stringham low: Crazy financiers and politicians
* Stringham super-high: All we need is love, and yes, love does keep us together.

Today I received a notice in the mail from GE Money Bank saying my line of credit account had been closed. They cited my credit report, citing “length of time since last delinquency,” something else about a delinquency of trade, and too large a percent of my credit limit is used. Well, the credit limit percentage used is partly because we closed my Target Visa, we know…the rate was just going too high, and we were tired of the interest rate creeping up over and over again, so we closed it. But delinquencies? I have NO delinquencies. They cited changes on my TransUnion report. Wondering if this was something showing up from the healthcare bills and collection agencies impacting my credit report (but not thinking so because my credit monitoring service hasn’t notified me of any changes yet), I called the number the GE Bank statement gave for TransUnion. It was completely automated. I had to enter information, which basically resulted in the automated system giving me a spiel about how the credit report is great but is nothing compared to the score and how the score is used to determine your creditworthiness, and then it asked if I wanted to purchase my score. I chose the option for No. Then it asked again, as if I had not heard the question properly the first time. I chose No again. Then it told me about how they have a credit watching and reporting service you can purchase. I chose the option for No, just trying and waiting to speak to someone. Then it went on a minute-long spiel about how vital credit monitoring is to protecting your credit, blah, blah, blah, blah. Again I chose No, thank you. Then I was told a copy of my credit report would be in the mail and I could expect to see it in a week or two. Then I was disconnected. Seriously.
What a freaking scam.

So then I called GE Money Bank and asked them what was going on. I was told that GE was doing away with the Lines of Credit. So this is happening to everyone? I asked. Yes, the lovely Indian woman told me. So why, I asked, were things like delinquencies and issues with my credit report cited? Well, she said, they also do use credit reports when doing this.

Seriously? They’re closing all Line of Credit accounts anyway, but they feel the need to do checks into everyone’s credit reports? Sounds fishy. And expensive.
And so now I’m going to have another impact on my credit score—my percent of credit used…Oh, and this was AFTER GE already had lowered my account limit to below the amount I owed on it…seems to me GE has been fucking over my credit on its own initiative so it can say it can drop me because of unfavorable reports on my credit score. Honestly, what the hell is happening in this world?

Our financial lives—hell, even our jobs—are now determined by our credit reports and credit scores, but we now have no control over our credit and those reports. We’ve been dutifully paying down my debt for the past two years, without adding any more, other than the house and the heat pump. The credit cards are never used. And we somehow manage to funnel every spare (and not-so-spare) cent into those debts so they don’t grow. And now, my credit is taking a hit because some douchebag bankers couldn’t properly manage MY money, and they’re laying the blame on me and causing MY credit to suffer for it. All this with the healthcare system (don’t get me started) and people trying to hold me responsible for debts that AREN’T mine?

What the fuck happened to the accountability in this country? I’ve played the game, I’ve played within the system, playing it like I was supposed to, like a dutiful little consumer, and now that I’ve been trying to break out of the system, I’m getting screwed over (just like every other American, I know…right now I just feel like I’m being singled out, what with all these issues converging.)

I’m self-employed and lose basically 45% of my income to taxes. Yep, you read that right…FORTY-FIVE PERCENT…so if I make as much money before taxes as I did as an employee of someone else right now, I’m actually bringing home far less money. Plus I don’t get health insurance. (So no, I don’t feel bad about applying for public aid whenever things are lean right now—I’m now paying double for it.) Mike is now working a factory job, which we’re happy about. He has a job! But he now makes less money there than he did on unemployment. He has to work a 40-hour week plus about 9 hours of overtime just to make before taxes what he got from unemployment. And still no health insurance (nope, he’s got to make it through 6 weeks as a temp, then 60 days as a full employee before he can even HOPE to apply for health insurance). Oh, and that overtime is mandatory. He’s going to have at least 48 hours this week, probably 56. No, he can’t turn it down even if he wanted to…not without getting points.

I know, it’s a challenge millions of Americans have faced through the years. I grew up with parents working in factories and having mandatory overtime. And low wages are a sad reality. But I just have to ponder today…how broken is this economy? A healthcare bill just got passed that’s going to require us to start paying in taxes in 2011 but won’t start providing benefits until 2014. For three years, people are either going to be paying twice for healthcare, or paying and not receiving any. Or they’ll be charged a penalty for “willingly” not paying for health insurance. All this was supposedly to save Americans money in the healthcare system. But instead of controlling costs, all it’s doing is requiring insurance companies to provide benefits to everyone. Gee, thanks, Gov’ment. I already could have found insurance for myself, if I had wanted to pay enough. This isn’t going to help me at all. Way to attack the symptom, and not the problem. It’s like giving penicillin to someone who needs an antibiotic but is allergic to penicillin. Brilliant!

Honestly, why do we have this incredible need to DO SOMETHING! even when we know it’s not the right thing to do. Do we ever stop to consider what’s the right thing or the wrong thing to do? Have we forgotten that choosing to do nothing is still doing something, that sometimes there’s just no bandage big enough, that sometimes bleeding the patient, giving an antibiotic, shooting the lame horse is not the answer? Can’t we just let the body fix itself? We’ve become too dependent on artificial systems, on financial systems and insurance systems that WE’VE created…they’re artificial markets. Instead of trading goods and services for other goods and services, we’re playing with imaginary money and imaginary percentages and the ability of money to triple in value by doing nothing, going nowhere, and not actually being spent. And who has really been hurt? The people who put their money in banks, the people who had to live in a society that runs EVERYTHING based on your credit history—your ability to get an education, a job, a car, a house. Average people.

And the insurance companies that were once created to help spread risk across groups so people who weren’t so healthy could still receive care without having to pay for the cost have been dicked around by health care providers, and then the health care providers got dicked around by insurance companies, and on and on it went in a spiral, until now, there are people who companies won’t insure because they’re too expensive, and those people no longer just have to pay for the high cost of their care—they have to pay for the high cost of care that health care providers can’t recoup from insurance companies because of the dicking-around spiral that’s been going on for decades. And who has really been hurt? Patients.

Average people have been hurt. Over and over again. The system is broken. Beyond any government repair. Government can’t even fix itself. Decision makers, policy makers, rate-setters…people too innumerable to count, and faceless…have broken things…no, CREATED a golem, a broken, ridiculous parody of reality, and we pay the consequences.

But all is not without hope. We aren’t our healthcare or financial systems. We have to live with them, among them, navigating them, as broken and twisted, mangled, smoldering as they are in their ruination, but we have each other, and that makes us, the average people, strong.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Debt Collector Calleth

* Stringham high: More (slight) improvement in Steph's vision this week!
* Stringham low: See today's entry below :(
* Stringham super-high: Mike has a job!!!!!!

Got a letter from a collection agency today for one of the doctors who’s been billing me since October—for reading the X-rays and CT scan they took when I first started having my headache and a lot of pain. I’ve called Managed Health Services (the company who was managing my insurance through Medicaid) every time I’ve received a bill, and they’ve sent letters to this guy two or three times, and they’ve tried to call his office to talk to him because he shouldn’t still be billing me. But when they’ve tried to call him, they’ve not been able to get through. So today, I called them again and told them about the collection agency, and I was told it would get turned over to Pam, the lady who contacts whese companies and reminds them that they cn’t keep billing me or they will lose their ability to treat Medicaid patients.

And then I called the collection agency and told them (as much as they would let me) what was going on, so they took my Medicaid number and said they’d try to get reimbursed for this from Medicaid but that this might hurt my credit anyway because it’s gone to collections. I said I understood but it is what it is because I can’t do much about it.

Meanwhile, I feel like shit because when I call these billing places, they make me feel dirty because I’ve got Medicaid or I’m not paying, or whatever. And they try to make you feel bad and tell me that I’m still liable for it, even if Medicaid doesn’t cover it. The whole time I’m told this, I keep thinking this is ridiculous. This is a fight between Medicaid and the provider, and the provider (any of them) keeps telling me that I’m responsible for paying whatever Medicaid doesn’t pay. Sure, if you have medical insurance, you’re liable for whatever they don’t cover, but Medicaid works a little differently. I mean, really, if I had the money, I wouldn’t have to have had Medicaid, would I? So I felt like crap, because I’m between a rock and a hard place, in between two fighting dogs, and I’m the one who’s going to get hurt from it, my credit score, anyway. I told Mike about everything, and I just started bawling because these phone calls always make me feel crappy and worthless and, most of all, frustrated, because I feel powerless. I’m told by one side not to do anything and by the other side that I’m completely responsible. And all I want to do is understand what the hell is going on. And I want to be left alone while they duke it out. Why do I have to keep getting bit by the dog? ugh.

Anyway, because I was crying, Mike was trying to tell me what I needed to do, to call MHS and make sure the problem goes to someone who will do something more than just “pass it to Pam.” I told him to feel free. So he started calling. He tried to take care of it, but they had to talk to me, so I had to try to stem my tears of frustration and talk to these people again. This lady was incredibly understanding and patient (and knowledgeable—jackpot!)—but maybe that was because Mike had already told her I was in tears and that’s why he was calling. It was the lunch hour (of course), so she tried to find Pam, or her own boss, but couldn’t. But she has told me that she’s trying to find a different number for this doctor who keeps billing me (and apparently ignoring the warning letters from MHS) but can’t seem to be reached. And she’s supposed to call me before the day’s out to let me know what’s going on. She said this situation needs to be escalated, the letters and calls just aren’t enough anymore, because this has been going on for too long (yeah, that’s why I’ve been so damn frustrated…I’ve been getting bills from him since December). So here’s hoping that she can get her coworkers to cooperate and really get something to happen. Because if this one isn’t resolved, I’ve got two MUCH larger bills coming down the pike that will go much the same way…

The more I deal with crap like this, the more I’m convinced that health care providers and collection agencies like this (and other insurance companies) eventually get their money by strong-arming, lying, and just wearing people down. Most people will eventually pay because they don’t have the time to deal with this and will cave in and pay out of fear or frustration, even if it means they rack up credit card debt or something. (Seriously?!) I may not know much, but I know better than that. I figure I’ve got three things going for me: (1) I’ve got the time (well, I can make it) to deal with this, (2) I’m incredibly organized and can provide documentation for every phone call and bill and letter, and (3) I hate being strong-armed—the more they try it, the more pissed off I get, and the less likely to do what they want me to do, especially quickly—if I get flustered or rushed, I retreat to gather my thoughts—screw that rushed decision crap.

In the meantime, I have to write a letter to the collection agency to show that I contest that I owe this money, and I’m going to give dates for everything, phone calls, and copies of letters. And copies are going to the provider and MHS, too. Seriously, IF this is going to hurt my credit, at least I can hold my head up high and have documentation.

All this instead of just having a brand-new beautiful baby in my arms this month…Mike and I sure would have preferred the baby. :)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

* Stringham high: Mike has job leads! Manual labor, to be sure, but better than the nothing that was facing him.
* Stringham low: Mike's unemployment funds ran out today.
* Stringham super-high: The sun in shining, the weather is above freezing, and choruses of birds are singing! Not just crows, but birds! Songbirds! Spring! SPRING!

I thought we'd start with all that stuff this time, as it's so important. The Divine has been good, providing for us this week, answering my very scared prayers, sending job leads and apparent immediate openings, once you jump through the appropriate hoops.

We have seeds, we just got more gardening books today, and we're ready to plant. We just need warm weather. M's planning to begin tilling this weekend so we can start planting potatoes when they arrive. Soon, we'll be starting seeds inside, too! Who knows, maybe I'll get my vision completely restored for an Easter/Ostara miracle and we'll have another Stringham on the way before the year is out! (Guess that spring breeze blowing in, bringing the smell of warm earth with it is really good for my outlook!) Okay, I'm not completely crazy. I think my vision's more likely to sneak up on me slowly, in a slow-acting miracle culminating around Samhain/Halloween! I'm not picky. A bit in a hurry, sure, but not picky. :D

In all seriousness, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone to take a moment to pause, look around, and enjoy the world that's around you. Really, REALLY stop and indulge in all of your 5 senses for just 10 minutes. Honestly, you never know when ANY one of those senses can be taken away. Just a few months ago, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to see the world this brightly (literally or figuratively) again, and I'm not about to take it for granted again. Neither should you.

Also, it's not the "season" of Thanksgiving any longer, but I'd like to thank all of you who have expressed your concern and given assistance or support in any way over the past few months, including recently, as I've continued to recover, especially emotionally and spiritually. Thank you for all being so understanding and helpful and gracious. Thanksgiving is always in season, and that's something I'm also trying to remember and practice. My heart goes out to all of you, and I remember you all in my prayers.

And now, as Monty Python would say, for something completely different: A link to a blog of a very good, very funny author who is offering some insight today (March 4, 2010) on the publishing industry:

(Oh, and remember, if you go to my actual blog page, the titles usually link to YouTube videos or other fun sites.)