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Calm

On the heels of yesterday’s rant about an unexpectedly high (that’s putting it mildly) medical bill, I’m pleased to report that I’m no longer furious.

The weekend was smashed beyond almost all repair after the arrival of that $3,450 invoice on Saturday afternoon. Naturally, I was chomping at the bit to put in a call to the issuing office on Monday morning as soon as they opened, to the point where I actually got up half an hour early so I could do it before I went to work. After employing the secret not-so-secret “zero” hotkey that typically bypasses most phone menu trees and gets you to a live person, I let them have it with both barrels.

Okay, no I didn’t. Instead, after giving them our invoice number so they could get our account up on their screen, I asked for an explanation of why the first mailing we’d ever received from them had a big red “Overdue” stamp on it. Bizarrely, this was apparently just a product of their automated system. “The system looks at the date the service was performed and compares it to the invoice date,” said the woman on the phone, “and typically if it’s more than 30 days it just marks it as overdue, but it’s not really, because we never generate invoices that fast. It’s not overdue until we’ve attempted to bill you three times without success.”

Personally, I find it odd that they actually have a person putting a red rubber stamp of the word “Overdue” on something that is almost never, in actuality, overdue. But whatever; perhaps I come from a mystic land where logic is purple and trees are made of marshmelons.

More to the point, I asked them why we were being charged $3,450 for something that the hospital told us should be in the $700 range. Although the woman I was speaking to couldn’t explain why the hospital would have quoted us such a low number, she did ask if we were insured, and admitted that they have a “cash rate” they charge to uninsured patients in the amount of $1,200. That’s a far cry from $3,450. Both my wife and I had suspected something like this was afoot.

Still, $1,200 in and of itself is still almost double the original $700 estimate, or even the $744 average cost reported for this service in our zip code. Based on all of this research (conducted in haste, as we had naturally not even planned to birth in a hospital until we were just hours away from delivery), we had expected (and budgeted for) an amount of $1,000 at the outside. After swallowing my pride — because I hate doing this kind of stuff — I briefly told the story of how we’d been kicked off our insurance plan the week my wife got pregnant and how we’d had to foot the bill for everything since, and asked if there was any way we could agree upon a final price of $1,000 even.

After an uncomfortable but momentary silence, the woman agreed. Within half an hour, I had a faxed copy of a new invoice in my hands in the amount of $1,000.

As I told my friend Pooch in an email this evening, it’s not $700, but it’s also definitely, definitely not $3,450, so I am frankly quite satisfied with how things turned out. I just wish it hadn’t been such a painful process to get here, but the fault for that is largely my own.

This emotional roller coaster was only one component of a fairly unusual Monday all around. After getting off the phone with the medical specialist, I headed off to work as usual. It was a disgusting day outside; temperatures in the 30s, pissing rain after a night of “wintery mix”, cloudy and air so damp you could feel it trying to soak its way into your skin. Arriving at the office, I parked my car in the underground deck and sat there for a moment, staring with perplexed curiosity at all of the cars that were leaving the parking garage. I recognized many of them, too, as belonging to regular employees of other companies in our eight-story office building. Why are all these people leaving first thing in the morning?

I checked my work email on my phone in case an announcement had been made like “the building’s on fire”, but there was nothing out of the ordinary, so I decided to go in and see for myself what was going on. I hadn’t even made it out of the parking garage before a guy came down the steps and told us not to bother going in, because there was a power failure affecting the whole building. Oh! Well, I guess that explains it. I almost turned around and went right back to the car to go home then and there, but decided that maybe I should go in and see if there was anybody already up in the office that I should speak to about the plan for the day. Although it’s easy for me to work from home, I wondered if there might be some kind of coordinated effort, and there was still no email in my inbox.

Before I even got to the building’s front door, a coworker showed up and asked if our boss had gotten hold of me yet. When I said no, he explained that some kind of water line had burst on the top floor of the building and caused all sorts of damage to the floors below, and they’d had to shut off the power to the whole place in order to initiate cleanup and repairs. (Which they’d better do properly, now that I think about it, lest I end up working in a black mold incubator.) He was just going in to get his laptop and then he was going to bug out. Shrugging, I pulled up my email once more and sent the boss a note saying I’d be online for the day as soon as I got home, then I went back to the car.

It was the first day I’ve worked from home in quite a while, and to be honest it was very refreshing — I’d forgotten what a pleasure it can be to work in your own space where you can play your music out loud, go out and get a snack, chat with the wife and make goofy noises and wave at the baby, eat a freshly made lunch, etc. Quite nice.

Since I enjoy such things, the news was about to get better. A follow-up email from the boss this evening informed us that the repair and restoration efforts at the office building were going to be an “extensive and ongoing” process, and that we’ll all be working from home again tomorrow. On Wednesday morning sometime, the building manager is expected to have some temporary power hookups in place for certain tenants such as ourselves, so we theoretically should be able to come back to work then. Since this guarantees me at least one more day working at home, I’m pleased — especially because tomorrow is the launch date of the Mass Effect 3 video game demo, meaning I’ll get a chance to play it a little earlier than I normally would!

At least all of my company’s major operations are hosted in the cloud, meaning that our websites are up, our email still works, and our ordering process continues uninterrupted. The only thing we can’t do is access our bug tracking system or our timesheet server, neither of which are going to bring the house down. Not so for the company down the hall from us, whose entire website is offline even now, suggesting that they must host it in-house on a box in their office space! Not terribly smart. (And I bet they’re working on a plan to move that stuff to the cloud even as I write this.)

And if we do manage to get back into the office this week, the big boss is scheduled to be away on vacation on Thursday and Friday, so it’ll probably be a fairly laissez-faire week all-in-all.

Anyway, I’m just happy to have the whole medical bill issue resolved in a mostly satisfactory fashion. How this affects The Great Xbox Acquisition Strategery remains to be seen, but I have hope. I’ve also hatched a possible plan to sell (or trade in) my old iPhone 3GS to make some extra moolah. I’m really going off the deep end here, folks. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Calm

  1. Good for you! Glad you were able to work that out so well.

    But isn’t that such a symptom of what’s completely wrong about the whole health care system?

    1. Yes, it is. There is of course a whole lot wrong with it, from the separate (and more than triple) costs being billed to insurers vs. actual patients, to the unconscionably botched communication that only an apathetic office bureaucrat could defend, to the overall high prices for services in general. But perhaps most frustrating of all is that, try as you might, you have essentially no way of ever predicting what your real cost will be for medical services until you’re left standing there holding the bag. None! Look what all of my own research got me: a $700 figure that I found plenty of evidence to defend, which I then proceeded to set aside 133% of, and still I got socked with a bill beyond my budget.

      It’s like going car shopping, and being told that the dealer will not reveal the price of the car until after you’ve bought it. They might tell you “Well, I hear this car is selling for around $20,000 in some other places,” but even that is total hearsay. Furthermore, the cost of the same car in different parts of the country can vary wildly, even from day to day, depending on too many factors for anyone to develop a reliable prediction model. How many people do you think would buy new cars then? Nobody. We’d all buy second-hand.

      Too bad you can’t buy second-hand health care.

      And I know that the logical counter-argument is that a car is a product that is the same for everyone, whereas medical care is often different for every patient. Even so, there has to be some way for practitioners to establish some kind of cost range that they can adhere to and still remain profitable.

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