Sunday, December 28, 2008

The hidden agenda

I realized that I’ve been looking at this insurance issue all wrong – here I’ve been viewing BCBS as a bureaucratic heartless incompetent monolith with Oompa Loompas working in customer service, when the truth is more likely that the erstwhile Oompa Loompas are being incentivized to badger sick people to an early grave. I didn’t come to this realization on my own, oh no, but rather through an email from my friend George in Canada, who noted the following:

Geez, I wonder if these people at the insurance companies get special training on how to make their customers extra miserable. Maybe they get extra points and bonuses for certain patients with specific diseases.

Make a cancer patient cry: Gift card to Nordstrom and a week in Cancun.
Get $355 out of them for no reason at all
: A free iPod

Show that there was an extra caregiver in the room while the patient
was under anesthesia: Bingo, a signed letter of recommendation from the CEO of BCBS and a Starbucks gift card.

My faithful reader (s) are clearly more brilliant than I – if any of you ever want to be a guest Triathlon Goddess blogger for a day or two, just let me know. George, you get dibs. Oh, and by that I mean the traditional meaning of dibs, i.e. first chance, and not the Chicago meaning, i.e. put some random crappy piece of houseware out on the street to save your parking spot after a big snowstorm. Just wanted to clarify.

In another shocker today, I was reading the Sunday paper, and as usual, skimming the obits. Yes, I know that’s kind of weird, but I find myself morbidly curious about women who die at relatively young ages – young being less than 70. Pretty much without exception, unless it’s Gertrude dying at the ripe old age of 92 after working at the sewing factory her whole life and proving herself to be quite the spitfire, the younger ones all die of cancer. Usually breast cancer. This feeds my pessimism, but I also kind of like it because it gives me something else to get pissed off about, rather than the usual nonsensical outrageous bills, the ridiculous weather that will in all likelihood next visit upon us a plague of locusts, the new yuppie neighbors whose 6-foot “privacy” fence is shading my entire yard, the fact of the 21 Dobermans who wound up at Chicago Animal Control after being rescued from the asshats and their puppy mill operation, the price of Wheat Thins, etc. You know, the usual.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the obits. After I saw this one, I looked at the rest of them and noticed that 99% of them read “So-and-so, beloved wife of....”. Or beloved husband. Not a single “POS loser husband who couldn’t even be bothered to cut the grass so we wouldn’t look like the white trash neighbors on the block”. Imagine that. But I digress. The word that actually got my head spinning was this: spinster. SPINSTER!! This poor woman, Wanda Piernikowski or whatever her name was, actually had the stark word “spinster” after her name in her obit. I looked at the front page to see if I had accidentally picked up a copy from 1942, but no.

So just promise me this – if I somehow meet an untimely demise before some man is lucky enough to snag me as his wife, just please PLEASE make sure that word doesn’t make it into print. Describe me as the “crazy party girl” or “triathlon goddess extraordinaire” or “hockey vixen to end all vixens” – but none of this spinster bullshit. Even if I’m 92 and still single and working at the library when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil. Deal??

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My life is brilliant

While some people who’ve gone through life-changing events suddenly find that they’re much calmer, even-keeled, they don’t let the little things bother them, etc., I’m the polar opposite. Even the smallest of things are enough to send me into a rage. If I had a gun, there’d be a trail of bodies strewn across greater Chicagoland, especially on the highways, especially for people who insist on driving exactly 55 in the left-hand lane. Sniper fire for all of them.

So by the time I made my way to Northbrook today to meet Laura for coffee at Starbucks, having battled my way through the crowded parking lot full of brake-hitting crappy-driving recession-proof suburbanites shopping madly at 1PM on a Thursday afternoon....I was in a fine mood. Fine. Mood.

Since I was early, I decided to go ahead and get my latte, and as I stepped up to the counter, the stylish older woman looked at me, smiled, and the following conversation ensued:

Clerk #1: I love your hat – that’s great!
Me: Yeah, it kind of sums it all up, doesn’t it.
Clerk #2, looking: Let me see it – oh yeah, that’s a perfect hat.
Clerk #3, peering over: Where? Oh, I LOVE that hat. We should all wear them!
Clerk #2: I agree, though Starbucks might have a problem with that.

Clerk #1 then proceeds to tell me that both her MILs had cancer, and so does her sister, who has a recurrence and is now getting everything removed, and who waited to see the doctor after she found a lump the second time since she was scared of more bad news. I can certainly understand that. The other two women chimed in, and it was like we were in some special magical cocoon of solidarity, since I was the only person in line, which is almost unheard of at a Starbucks. I then tell them that my NEXT hat will be a Fuck BCBS one, and we all commiserate over that, with the first woman telling me her tale of woe. Basically that there’s depression that runs in her family, and when they had self-employment insurance BCBS tried to screw them over with their usual babble about pre-existing blah blah and incorrect forms and so on.

As an aside, I looked up “BCBS evil” in an attempt to find an appropriate picture that would capture their evilness, and discovered that hating BCBS is an entire cottage industry. They are reviled far and wide – unsurprisingly.

Anyway, our little cocoon doesn’t last as other people are inconsiderate enough to come into Starbucks wanting coffee, so I pull out my money to pay for my latte – and the woman tells me there’s no charge. I tell her that’s not necessary, but she insists. I am practically moved to tears – the kindness of strangers is a beautiful thing, like a little point of light shining down on an otherwise bleak world.

So today’s lesson is this: one little Fuck Cancer hat has the power to change the world. God bless us, every one....

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kafka lives

Because I’m insanely stubborn, once I’m over the gloom and shock of these idiotic bills from Blue Cross Blue Shield, I decide I’m going to call them to try to straighten things out. I figure I can handle a call a day before my head explodes. But first, before trying billing, I figure I’ll call them to ask about the “Case Management” person they’re offering to assign me to, purportedly to give me a single point of contact to help me navigate all this stuff. Sniffle – is BCBS actually starting to care about its customers and trying to make their lives a little easier?

No. The answer to that would be no. Because I do call, and a very nice woman tells me that the person they’d assign me to would help me with very useful things, like determining what treatment I need and where I should go for it, what doctors I should use. I ponder this for a brief moment (picturing myself heading off to Stan’s House of Fine Boobage for reconstruction surgery), and decide, no thanks. Especially after I ask if this person would help me sort through the maze of insurance stuff – umm, no, though they’d tell me what number to call. Thanks – I can get that from looking at the back of my BCBS card.

Onward. I decide to call to first find out about the $5000 bill that’s due to an “adjustment,” whatever the hell that is. After much time on the phone, during which I sense a few rounds of darts are going on in the background, the woman comes back noting that the dart has landed on “extra person in the room.” Huh? Supposedly there was a registered nurse in the room during surgery, and BCBS won’t pay for that, just for the doctor. This practically stuns me into silence, because what the hell do I come back with? Was I supposed to poll everyone pre-surgery to make sure that only the bare minimum of necessary people were present? Wouldn’t my doctor know who should be there?

I then decide to tackle one portion of that $5000, a bill for $355 to NW for surgery with Dr. Jeruss. I call my doctor’s office and speak to the assistant, who has no idea what the hell this is either, so she sends me to the NW Memorial billing person. Who also has no idea what this is, so she calls BCBS, and has a conversation with someone who tells her that no, the charge is because I haven’t met my out-of-pocket limit. Again, huh? This is clearly not the case. Whereupon we have the following conversation:

BCBS loon: My records show that you haven’t met your out-of-pocket limit yet, so that’s why you got that bill.
Me: But that’s not the case. I have a whole stack of bills here and I met my limit early on, probably back in July.
Loon: Well, it really depends more on when we process the bills. So you could get billed for things because we haven’t processed them as showing that you’ve met the limit.
Me: But regardless of when you process things, paying this bill would put me over my out-of-pocket limit.
Loon, speaking slowly: Let me see if I can explain this in really simple terms. Doctors have up to a year to bill us so what matters is the date we process things. But you’ll still never pay more than your out-of-pocket limit.
Me: So you’re saying that because of your delay in processing these bills that means I have to pay more than I should? Because that’s what’ll happen if I pay this bill.
Loon: No, you’ll never pay more than your limit, even if you pay that which puts you over your limit.
Me: Excuse me a moment.

I go retrieve my head from across the room, since it’s just spun free of its moorings.

When I go back to the phone, I tell her that we’re not getting anywhere and that it would be simpler if I just wrote everything down and faxed them the info, so we agree on that at least. I get the feeling that BCBS just wants to badger me into paying this bill, figuring what’s $355 out of tens of thousands of dollars? I’ll tell you what it is – it’s the principle of the thing, dammit. And it irks me that here I am with an MBA from Wharton, and I can hardly figure this stuff out. What about all the poor schmoes out there who are too sick or confused to deal with this crap? BCBS, as soon as I can figure out how to get it made, there’s going to be a Fuck (XXXX) hat with YOUR name on it.

Speaking of Wharton, I decided to actually make some use out of LinkedIn the other day, and got in touch with one of my connections, even though I wasn’t sure exactly how we had connected. Though we both have a background in B2B, and he went to Wharton, so it must have been one of those. Anyway, we’re chatting when suddenly he mentions something about “that blog of yours.” Oops. I try to keep fun/personal stuff on Facebook, professional stuff on LinkedIn, but clearly the blog snuck through. Which made me think of my mom, who doesn’t read my blog but who cautioned me against it back in the fall, when I was entertaining thoughts of returning to full-time Corporate America. She thought it might scare companies off, and I admit I did toss that possibility around in my head.

And quickly discarded it, figuring – who’s going to google an interview candidate and find my blog? Puh-leeze. But now, I care even less. Because it occurred to me, as I was having this delightful conversation with Mr. Fellow Wharton alum, who clearly appreciated the humor of the blog, that if there are people out there who would ding me because of the blog......then they’re not the kind of people I’d want to be working with anyway.

And finally, for all you naysayers who had me doubting my eyesight and my sanity, in questioning whether or not I actually saw a sign for the Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant, behold:

Quaker Steak & Lube®, voted Best Wings USA, is a family friendly restaurant with a motor-sports themed atmosphere. The restaurant has 18 Award-Winning home-made sauce recipes with a menu variety that include Buffalo-style chicken wings, ribs, steaks, salads, signature appetizers, distinct beverages and Kids Lube Cruiser meals. Founded in Sharon, PA in 1974, Quaker Steak & Lube® houses unique décor, including race cars hanging from the ceilings and motorcycles, Corvettes and gas station memorabilia decorate the walls. The Lube® began franchising in 1997 and currently has 25 locations in nine states.

This was from a press release for a Hamburger Festival, where QS&L won with its “Lubeburger.” No, seriously. My question is, how have I come this far in life without ever having even heard of this place? Much less stopping there??

Monday, December 8, 2008

The magic hat

Saturday I’d agreed to go with MLSFBF Kat to check out the new Christkindlmarket (read=glogg) that’s in Lincoln Square, and since I’m still in a pissy mood, I decide to wear the Fuck Cancer hat, sensibilities of child-toting yuppies be damned. I’m prepared, however. If anyone dares say anything to me, I’ll tell them that they should see this as a great Teaching Opportunity, to explain to their starry-eyed urchins why cancer is so sucky, how too many people die from cancer each year, and that health insurance companies are Satan’s emissaries trudging amongst us mere mortals here on earth. I think that about sums it up.

But while I’m ready for anything, even I wasn’t prepared for the reality of what actually happened that cold, wintry day in Lincoln Square.....

We got to Lincoln Square, magically found parking, and discovered that instead of being an open air market like the one in Daley Plaza, this was inside a big tent. Fair enough – as long as they have glogg, who cares? We’re standing at a round table drinking our libations, when suddenly I’m hailed by a strapping young man at the next table over.

Cute guy: Hey, awesome hat! Love it!
Me: Thanks!
Cute guy: Yeah, my dad died of cancer 2 months ago. Cancer sucks!!
Cute guy’s also cute friend: Yeah, that’s an AWESOME hat!

I then got a fist pump in my general direction, and we raised our glasses of glogg to each other. Thus buoyed by feelings of solidarity, Kat, Annie and I make our way to our next stop, Merz’s Apothecary, where I’m determined to not buy anything because the thousands of dollars in medical bills, as wrong as they may be, are weighing on me like a yoke. Alas, I succumb.

So I go to the counter with my little selection of nice-smelling soaps, and the 3 shopkeepers behind the counter are irrepressibly jovial. Kat’s buying some stuff at the same time, and she gets her items in a Merz reusable mesh bag, since she bought more. Mine is in a smaller albeit equally adorable paper bag.

MLSFBF Kat: Hey, look at the cool bag I got!
Me: That IS nice.
Girl behind counter: This smaller one is nice too.
Me: Oh, definitely, that’s still an adorable bag.
MLSFBF Kat: But look at how cool mine is!
Guy behind counter, jovially: Oh, let me give you one of those as well!
Me, stammering: But....
Guy: Really, here you go! Merry Christmas....and fuck cancer! Ha! I’ve never gotten to say that to a customer before!
Me: Well there you go then, there’s a first time for everything!

The 3 people behind the counter continue smiling and joking around as we make our way to the door, a bit bemused. I kind of feel like I’m in some weird alterna-world, where the words “fuck cancer” open a magic portal to sunshine and light. Everyone’s so damn chipper and smiley. And if anyone IS giving me the ol’ stink eye, I don’t notice at all. Glogg will do that to a person.

Kat drops me off at home, and I get ready to go to the Christmas party, ready to beat someone with a frozen ham if I have to. This doesn’t turn out to be necessary, but that’s because everyone is so busy talking about their favorite chi-chi restaurants and what stocks to buy and blahblahblah. I guess I should be thankful that unlike at the Tri Club party Wednesday night, no one asks me “Oh yeah, so that cancer, is it gone, are you done with it, are you cured or are you terminal?” No, really. Those are actual words that came out of one drunk person’s mouth. What does one say to that? “Were you born stupid or do you practice that?”

After I extricate myself from the Christmas party, I meet Annette at the Village Tap for a drink. At this point I’m a bit glogged out, so I just order a coke, and we hang out at the bar. Since I’m perpetually cold, I’m still wearing my hat. After a few minutes, I realize that my Coke is nowhere to be seen, and as I look up at the bartender, he realizes the same thing at that same moment, that he totally forgot about it.

Bartender, apologizing profusely: Oh my god, I’m SO sorry about that! I can’t believe I forgot your drink!
Me, pretend-forlornly: It’s the hat, isn’t it....
Bartender: NO, of course not, the hat is great! I love the hat! I just forgot – I’m so sorry! It’s on the house, and...
Me: Oh, that’s not necessary, I’m just teasing you.
Bartender: No really, no charge, and it’s a bottomless glass, all you want all evening, for free!
Me: But...
Bartender: Really! And I’m SO sorry!

And sure enough, as soon as I’m done with my coke, he whisks my glass away and promptly refills it, with a smile no less. Hmm. Hmm........

I think they’re all scared of me. But hell, I’ll take it. Besides, it occurs to me that some of these guys are actually kind of cute. Hmm......

Friday, December 5, 2008

Forget cancer, f&(* insurance

Thanksgiving morning started out the same as usual, with Deanna calling me at 9:39, the second her Turkey Trot finished, to tell me that she had gotten yet another PR and that it was clearly due to how tiny she was and blah blah blah. I “accidentally” hung up on her when I was unwrapping another bonbon to stuff into my own gaping maw – oops.

Then Thanksgiving at my mom’s, which was a bit of a surreal experience. I guess I’m used to my friends and I making cancer jokes, about the prime bike rack position I should have at triathlons next year, about how I can save on electricity because of the glow from the radiation, etc. So being in the company of people (old friends of the family) who must know about the cancer thing but aren’t sure if they should bring it up – that’s just weird. I know all my mom’s friends know about it – hell, I think I have the entire church of someone from my mom’s Bunco group praying for me – so I’m sure these friends know but just don’t know what to say. I wind up being silent for most of dinner, because I just can’t relate to my idiot brother’s complaints and asinine comments and whatever. (NOTE: this is my idiot brother who moved into the family summer home in WI, not my great and cool brother in CA who works for Nickelodeon and is always trying to kill me when I go out there for a visit.)

Kona at least enjoyed himself, not questioning the pieces of turkey coming his way, like manna from heaven.

Then Tuesday was a drive to South Bend, IN, to pick up two Dobes that needed transporting back to IL. Poor pooches being abandoned, sweet as pie, same old story. The noteworthy thing about this trip was the sign I saw on the way out there. While I’m used to seeing local treasures such as Chubby’s, Mama’s Fried Chicken, and so on, this was the first time I’ve seen the following on a billboard for restaurants: Quaker Steak and Lube. I don’t even know what to say about that, except that I’ll probably not be eating there anytime soon.

Thursday I picked up another Dobe from Chicago Animal Control, and this poor guy was so emaciated it made me want to cry. He got the spare dog biscuits that I keep in my pocket, and he was sweet as can be. I’ve started wearing my Fuck Cancer hat this week, and the woman who works at CAC liked it, though she noted that it took guts to wear it. My response: “I’m a bitter, angry person with cancer – who’s going to dare say anything?”

Then this evening I decided to do the adult, responsible thing, i.e. open my mail. I know I shouldn’t have, but I bit the bullet and decided to go for it. What the hell, right? And promptly discovered that my radiation treatment cost.......$59,000. Really. And that apparently BCBS doesn’t feel like paying my bills anymore, because there was another one that said I shouldn’t pay (yet), but should contact my insurance provider to see why they’re not paying. And my favorite, the letter from BCBS that states that they’ve “made an adjustment” and due to that I need to pay them $5000. For what, it’s not clear, though the date on the claim is 8/29, i.e. the date of my surgeries. So which part of that they think was optional or unnecessary, I’m not sure. I would make the case I saved them money by having the 2 surgeries at once, with only one set of anesthesiologists and one use of an operating room. So fuck you insurance, BCBS, and I mean that profoundly. How dare you saddle me with this bullshit when I have been paying you on my own your super-high premiums for YEARS, without a single health problem? Fuck YOU. FUCK you.

So clearly the cancer isn’t going to kill me, but the stress will. Tomorrow I get to go to a Christmas party that some friends are having – the friends who have everything but never seem happy, and whose latest stress in their lives is, well, planning these parties. So I say this now as a warning, as God is my witness: the first person who complains to me tomorrow night how stressed he or she is because they “have so much shopping to do, and so many parties to go to!” – is going to be soundly bludgeoned with a frozen ham. Or a socket wrench, whatever’s handier.

What’s ironic is that some friends thought that I was depressed earlier this fall, what with the whole cancer and collarbone thing, basically because I was sleeping a lot (brain injury). As they say, “tired is the new depressed.” Or something. But I wasn’t – I was fine, rolling with the punches, doing my own thing. But now? Now I’m depressed. Cancer couldn’t break my spirit, but letters from insurance threatening me with collection agencies have. And yes, I have an out-of-pocket limit, which I met a long time ago, and all my doctors are within my “network.” So BCBS is apparently just trying to harass me to death. It might work yet.

I’m going to go cry now. Really.