Monday, December 1, 2014

Pay: $0.00

Few things in the capitalist life are free. Yes, there are the "buy one, get one free" promotions, the "free shipping" promises, the "free dessert on your birthday" offers, the "free" returns, the "free five dollar gift cards" with twenty dollar purchase, but these, in all reality, are anything but "free." The companies had received payment for them at least a dozen times over before they even thought to extend them. 

Then there are those "free" things that you actually pay for with your time. "Take this survey, and get a free cupcake." "Sorry about the mistake in the order, here's a free drink." "It's national pancake day, come in for your free pancake." "This item was mislabeled, it's yours for free."

And then there is the excruciating, painstaking, energy sucking, time ticking wait with customer service on the 1800 line. "We are experiencing longer than usual hold times, please continue to hold or call us back at a later time, or press 1 to leave a voice message." It seems that every merchant's customer help line I have tried to call in the past year is experiencing "higher than usual hold times." Whether it's the water company, the cable company, or the online retailer, I get the same recording. It's also popular with doctor's offices both in pediatric practices and other specialties. Many times I just hang up, but some times I really need someone on the other line and so I wait. 

A few weeks ago I waited. It was Friday mid-morning when the automated call came in: "such and such cancer medicine is delayed. Please contact us for further information." So I called; three times! The first time, when I finally got someone on the line, the lady couldn't tell me anything I didn't know. "It could be delayed," she said, "but it might also ship on time. I cannot say for sure. You'd better call the oncologist for an emergency supply to be dispensed at the local retail pharmacy ~ just in case."

"Just in case!" That got my blood moving. We had a cancer patient on our hands, a medicine that was not guaranteed to be available, the weekend coming up, and all the woman had to say was "just in case." It was no joke. So I bet on the worse case and called the oncologist. Few minutes into the call I was talking to the answering machine. It was after 2:00pm that I got a call back. 

"We cannot write you an emergency script," came the reply, "call the online pharmacy back, ask to speak to a supervisor and have them expedite the medicine." That seemed easy enough, of course ~ to the nurse! But she was conclusive; there was no way around dialing 1800 again. So I did. 

When the representative finally came on the line, she was useless. Six minutes and fifty five seconds into the conversation and she was still unable to pull up the account. "Let's try by birth date," "spell the last name again," "what did you say the first name was?" "do you have the member I.D. in front of you?" I sure did not! I had two kids on my hands, dinner on the stove and a phone to my ear. "I am going to hang up now," I said. "Sorry," she apologized, "call us back at your convenience, we are open twenty four seven." "You are," I snapped, "but I am not!" And that was the end of conversation number two. I still had gotten nowhere with securing my dad his medication before the weekend, the holiday coming up, and his running out. 

Call number three came, as JR asked me to play restaurant. "Can I speak to a supervisor?" was my opening remark. "Certainly," she responded, "but maybe I can help." I took the bait and spent the next precious minutes explaining to her the issue at hand.

After she looked in her system, she confirmed my suspicions: I did in fact need to speak to a supervisor! "The order is here," she confirmed, "and he can get it dispensed at a local pharmacy ~ for FREE!" "For free?" I mused. "For free," she added again, "it says so right here." What she couldn't add to the conversation was how we would be able to get the local pharmacy to not charge us for the medicine at pick-up, how we were going to explain to the insurance company the matter at hand, and how we were going to convince the oncology nurse to write us a script for the "free" medicine. 

And so we waited for the supervisor to come on the line. And waited. And waited. When he finally came on the line, he was pleasant and cheerful. We went through the same exercise and raised the same issues. This time, however, he was able to address them. He put a call through to the nurse advice line. We waited again. We were caller number one and yet minutes passed with us on hold. Eight minutes later we decided to leave a detailed voice message. First he spoke, then I left my information, then he placed the request for the precious script. We hung up, and I waited for the call back. 

Two hours later, the call back still hadn't come through. It was a little after 4:00pm and the office would close in twenty minutes. I decided to be that patient and be relentless. I called back and this time got someone on the line right away. She had no idea what I was talking about. "I have not checked the voice messages yet," she replied. "What is your call back number? I will listen to the message and call you back wit next steps." And with that I was again at the mercy of a third party and the waiting game. 

Her call back came after 5:00 that afternoon but everything was taken care of. "I sent the prescription to the pharmacy and it should be ready in an hour." I thanked her and hung up. I was done for the day. Tomorrow, I would have to play a different battle. 

Saturday came too soon but I was ready for it. I had the prior experience and expertise to know that the simplest things can also be the most complicated when dealing with insurance companies. I was mentally and physically prepared to take this on, though, and when I pulled into the parking space in front of CVS I had every intention not to walk out of there defeated. I took a deep breath in and warned my dad who was sitting in the car with Yousef and sleeping JR that I might be a while. But I wasn't!

The pick-up was easy, too easy. The medicine was ready and the online pharmacy had come through. The co-pay was $0.00. I did not ask how or why. I collected it and walked out. I had already paid for it many times over.

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