Tuesday, November 10, 2015

United Health Care: What a Mess!

©2015 by LeeZard

This is a rant, a well-deserved rant.

My younger readers – both of them – may think this piece doesn’t apply. Take it as a cautionary tale, however; sooner or later our screwed up health care system will jump up and bite you in the ass. As for my fellow Medicare inmates, read it and weep.

It started simply enough on the early September day when I went to pick up a couple of prescription renewals. For years I’d enjoyed my Medicare Complete Plan through AARP and United Health Care (UHC) with great benefits and a more than reasonable premium. For a brief 18-month period, I utilized my employee benefits through Starbucks and Premera Blue Cross. That ended when I left the company in July 2015. I simply assumed my UHC plan would revert and become my primary carrier. Assumptions – always dangerous.
On that day, I went to co-pay for my prescriptions and I received a whopping bill for more than $300.00! “Your insurance lapsed on August 31st,” the pharmacist informed me. I was shocked. Unable to pay, I returned home and placed a call to United Health Care’s customer service department. And thus my Medicare nightmare unfolded.
Until this point, I never dealt by phone with United Health Care, never had a problem. I would soon learn that “customer service” at UHC is a misnomer; it is non-existent. Oh, let me count the ways.

After verifying my existence to the so-called customer service rep, I explained my quandary. There was silence at the other end as I heard the clackety-clack of computer keyboard typing. After a moment or two she said, “Can I put you on a brief hold while I check this out?”

Five minutes passed, then ten, 15 and more. Thirty minutes later the woman came back on the line. “I’m sorry, but it looks like ‘they’ failed to move your plan from Washington to Colorado when you phoned in your change of address.”
“Okay,” I replied, “that’s easy enough. Just move my plan to Colorado.”

“Well,” exaggerated pause, “it’s not that simple. First, you have to re-enroll in a Colorado plan. Then, there’s an outstanding bill of $440.00 on your Washington plan.”

“What?” The word exploded from my mouth. “Why should I pay an erroneous bill because your system screwed up?” A reasonable question, right? Wrong!

“Well,” she replied, “you can always appeal it but our computer says you owe $440.00 and that is unlikely to change.” Now there’s a hopeful statement.

“Well, let me re-enroll in the meantime.”

After another 30-minute hold I was passed to a sales representative who put me through the lengthy enrollment procedure – another 30-minutes worth. When we were done she informed me, “Your new plan will take affect October 1st and you will receive your new membership card shortly before then.” Right.

On October 2nd I reluctantly called UHC again; no new card. “Let me place you on a brief hold,” the rep told me. Ouch.
Forty minutes later she returned, “I’m sorry but we can’t find any record of your enrollment.” By that time I’d spent one hour and 40 minutes on the phone and the result was I had no Medicare Complete and its benefits that far outstrip those of Medicare. My frustration was beginning to boil.

“Wait, she offered, “let me have one of my colleagues try to find your record. She has more access than I do (Whatever that means). Let me put you on a brief hold.” You know the drill. I opened my laptop and began playing Backgammon.

No longer bothering to time the “brief hold,” I waited. Eventually a new voice came on the phone, “Sir, I did find your record. Do you live at blah blah blah?” It was my address from seven years previous. Holy guacamole; the left hand doesn’t even know there’s a right hand!

“Can I talk to your supervisor, please?”

“Sure, let me put you on a brief hold.” Noooooooo!!!

More than thirty minutes later, a conservative estimate, I connected with the supervisor. I calmly explained my dilemma and urged her to look for my record; it had to be in there. “Let me put you on a brief hold,” she said. Sheesh.

Upon her return – another lengthy wait – she informed me, “I did find your enrollment application but it’s been denied because you owe $440.00 in premiums for your Washington plan.”

“That was billed while I was in Colorado,” I explained, “it was an error on your part and I am not paying.”

“Well, then I’m afraid we can’t re-enroll you.”
My frustration was now anger, pure and simple. Luckily I learned a long time ago that displaying anger by getting excited, yelling, threatening, etc. is counter-productive. So, in my calmest voice, but clearly displaying my dissatisfaction, I asked, “Can I please talk to your supervisor?”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” came the reply.

“What? Why not? I’m not getting any help here and I need to talk to someone who can make a decision.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” she repeated.

“What? Are you guys the CIA? Why can’t I talk to your supervisor?”

“I can’t tell you that,” was her astonishing answer. I hung up.

The next day I thought I’d try again and I did hit some sort of shallow pay dirt. After laboriously explaining the problem yet again, this representative said, “You know, you can complain directly to Medicare; they have complete control over what we do.”

“Funny, nobody mentioned that to me before.”

I’ll spare you any more details; I’m already bored writing and reading this. It took another two and a half weeks but, after investigating, Medicare, to their credit, made UHC move my plan cancellation retroactive to the date I began benefits under Starbucks plan, February 1, 2014, in essence erasing my $440.00 debt.
Today, I am enjoying my Colorado plan – with NO monthly premium – and a full menu of benefits. Ironically, I repeatedly get phone calls from United Health Care, which I refuse to answer. Graciously they always leave a message asking me to return their call and let them know how they’re doing. Hah! Now I have them on a very long hold.