Sometimes government leaves you shaking your head.
Then you shake it some more and wonder what the heck just happened.
That was just what transpired this week. Please bear with me because this one will take some setting up.
Thursday morning my phone rang and it was a local government official who has been less than happy with me for more than a year. Of course, I quickly answered it because there was no telling what was going to happen.
Long story short, he told me he had someone who wanted to talk to me about an issue. OK, cool. I love issues because issues turn into stories and stories turn into readers and readers turn into clicks online — everybody wins.
He put his physician on the phone. Turns out the doctor has been having an issue with Medicare and had not received reimbursement payments since mid-December. It was putting a significant financial strain on his office operations.
“It’s about to put me out of business,” the doctor said.
I asked what he had done to address the problem and he said he had talked with Medicare folks and the offices of his U.S. senator, Richard Shelby, and his congressman, Mike Rogers.
He got several explanations, but could not get the money he was due flowing back into the practice.
OK, my first thought was there might be something here. But, as a reporter, I needed more information, so I put a call into the Washington office of Rogers, who represents Alabama’s Third Congressional District, which includes Phenix City. His press secretary was on extended leave, a staffer volunteered, so I asked for a contact. I was given the name Haley Wilson, who works for the congressman.
Less than 15 minutes after talking to the Phenix City doctor I sent an email to Wilson.
“I am working on a story about issues involving Medicare reimbursements to Phenix City doctors for services they have performed. One physician, (who I named) told me he was on the verge of closing his office because he has not received any Medicare payments since mid-December,” I wrote. “He said he has worked with Congressman Rogers' office and Sen. Shelby to no avail.
“Can you please give me the status of the issue and if the congressman is working with doctors such as (who I named again)?
“This story deadlines this afternoon and will post to our website.”
Then I went to work on another story. Get ready, we are about to get to the point where you will start shaking your head.
Not 15 minutes later, I get a call from the doctor that I had spoken to a half hour earlier.
“Whose cage did you rattle?” he asked.
All I could say was, “What are you talking about?”
Turns out he had just gotten off the phone with a Medicare official and they were working to rectify his problem. He was happy. I just started laughing.
My first thought was, “Well, this isn’t a story any more.”
Then a few hours later, an email from the congressman’s office pops up in the inbox.
“Constituent casework is a top priority of Congressman Rogers,” Wilson responded. “Constituents sign a privacy release form when they begin casework with our office, and as such, we cannot comment further.”
No need to, congressman. I think we can figure this one out all by ourselves. Your office made a well-placed call and the red tape was cut. I guess that’s how it works.
Let’s hope it’s good news for the doctor, and his problem is rectified.
And on the other hand, I have little to no doubt that constituent casework is a priority for the congressman. That’s how Rep. Rogers and his brothers and sisters, regardless of their political stripe, keep their jobs.
If they drop the ball enough times in the district, the game can be over quickly.
In the end, the congressman’s office didn’t need to comment any further. Everything that needed to be said had been said in action, not words.