Chris Johnson

I wish health insurance folks could talk to each other

I suspect I’m not the only person who’s ever gotten caught up in the web of non-communication between insurance companies, medical offices, pharmacies, off-shore betting parlors and somebody named Jeri, but I gotta vent.

My 117th aggravating incident of such started with about 47 calls from an 888 number with which an electronic voice would start something like this:

“This call is intended for Christopher Johnson. If you are not Christopher Johnson, please hang up. If you are Christopher Johnson, please stay on the line. By staying on the line, you acknowledge that you are Christopher Johnson. Christopher, Christopher, Christopher, this is an attempt to collect a debt. You’re Christopher, right? ...”

Or something like that.

Apparently Miss Electronic Voice doesn’t know that I don’t like talking on the phone to anyone, especially when they call me Christopher because that never can be good. And I especially don’t like talking to people after they call me and an electronic voice asks me to hold. But after about 47 phone calls, I decided that the only way to put an end to the harassment was to actually hold and have a real human call me Christopher.

So an actual human from something called RMS tells me I owe my former insurance company $75 from some prescription they filled in 2010. (My old insurance company wouldn’t let me go to a pharmacy; they made me order through them. I guess it’s so that they can double-dip by playing pharmacy and insurance provider.) And this actual human from some agency I’ve never heard of says that I can pay her right then and there over the phone.

No. 1, I’m driving at this point, so I’m not in a position to read off a credit card number. I’m too busy texting, checking Facebook and talking on the phone. Secondly, I’m not giving my credit card number to something called RMS. Is this the Royal Mountie Service? Rutabaga Macaroni Salad? Who knows? So I say, “Send me a bill (which I’ve never gotten) and I’ll be happy to pay it.”

Ahh, no can do, says the actual human. They don’t have the bill. So, I tell them to have the insurance company send the bill. No can do, says the actual human, who is under a strict “no communication that could actually solve the issue” policy. So, we come to an understanding: I won’t pay the mystery bill, and she’ll keep calling until I’m dead. Fair enough. Then my fiancee says this could ruin my good credit should I try to get a loan for something I can’t afford, like gasoline. So, reluctantly, I call my former insurance company and attempt to speak with a human.

Little did I know that this would be a Herculean effort that seems a bit unnecessary for a $75 bill that I’m happy to pay just to get people to leave me alone. After getting carpal tunnel syndrome hitting “1” and “2” and “0” to get through the phone system, I finally hear the department I think handles my ancient bill. “Yes!” I yell as I select one and then hear, “The option you have selected is not valid. Goodbye.”

“What?! That’s the option you gave me!” It took me about 20 minutes to get to the invalid option, so I tried some other numbers. While on hold, I heard, “Your call is very important to us,” which prompted a pretty good laughing spell to keep from crying. Fortunately, I finally reached the department but “Operators are currently helping other customers. The next available operator will be available in approximately, well, sometime after the Mayan apocalypse. If you would like to leave a message, we will be happy to return your call.”

“Yes!” Success, at last. I press the number to leave a message.

“Mailbox is full. Goodbye.”

“%$#&*@!” I say loudly, and that’s an exact quote.

The process of finally talking to a human took about a half-hour. Of course, that’s a human that tells me I’ve called the wrong department, as if I made a conscious decision to do that after the supposedly right number cut me off. They gave me another number and, after some transferring around, finally, I talked to person who mumbles her name and alleges she can help me.

“Well, Terri, here’s the thing ” I begin.

“THE NAME’S JERI!” she protests, as if I were not using my mumble translation device effectively. At this point, I’m ready to meet Jeri with the $75 in quarters so that I can have the pleasure of smacking someone involved in this shakedown with a heavy bag of coins. But I’m ready for this to stop.

Alas, after an hour of phone tribulation, Jeri is ultimately able to take my $75 payment and says the debt collection calls will stop in 24-48 hours. That was a couple weeks ago. Naturally, they haven’t stopped because doctors don’t talk to insurance companies, insurance companies don’t talk to pharmacies, pharmacies don’t talk to doctors and insurance companies don’t talk to the people they’ve asked to collect a debt that no longer exists. Well, maybe they do when you’re sick, but not me.

I tried to get a prescription refilled over the phone recently, and it was the same kind of thing. The pharmacy would not talk to the doctor’s office, and the doctor’s office wouldn’t talk to the pharmacy. Each would say the other had done something wrong and that I had to tell them to fix it. After about a dozen phone calls from me, one of the offices caved and performed actual human communication. The prescription was refilled immediately.

Of course, I’ve now lost one of the medicine bottles and have decided that though the medicine is critical, it’s less stressful to just die or go see a witch doctor – or as health insurance companies and some anti-customer medical and pharmacy establishments see it, a practical solution.

Excuse me, I’ve got a phone call.

“Is this Christopher Johnson? ...”

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at