Monday, March 31, 2014

It Didn't Have To Be That Way, BCBSAZ

I was wrong.  I didn't pay attention to the paperwork.  I made a mistake.  I'm happy to admit it.  I just wish someone had brought it to my attention in a less distasteful fashion.

BlueCross/BlueShield/Arizona raised our premiums by about 11%.  I received a letter notifying me of the change last Fall. I was stunned by the amount and the rate and I never got further down the page.

The date at which the change became effective eluded me.  I assumed they were telling me in October to give me a chance to examine my other options under the ACA before the price went up in my birthday month, February.  I would turn 62 then; I assumed that was a magic number for my insurer. Nothing else could justify such an egregious increase in monthly premiums.

I groused and I investigated but it seems that this is what it costs to insure two relatively healthy older adults in Tucson these days.  In February, I edited the automatic payment function at Compass Bank's online consumer center, and that was when the trouble began.

I received a letter late in the month, informing me that I had not paid my bill, that BCBSAZ was holding any claims for services and that my coverage would be cancelled if I didn't pay immediately.

After panicking, I went to the online banking center and reassured myself that, in fact, the payment had been made early in the month.  It reflected the new, higher amount.  I began to breathe normally, and chalked it all up to a computer glitch on the insurer's part.  The payment might have crossed with the letter; I hadn't opened it until a week or more after it had arrived in the mailbox.  Anything important comes to me via email these days.  Certainly there was nothing about the envelope which  warranted immediate attention.

On Friday, there was, once again, an envelope from BCBSAZ in my mailbox.  This time, I opened it immediately.  It was the same letter as last month.

I went straight to the bank's website and then to the phone.  I bypassed panic altogether; I moved straight to pissed off.  More than peeved, less than furious, more ornery than annoyed.... I was pissed.  Poor Shannon (not her real name) answered my call.....


after much too much time had been spent listening to loud Muzak interspersed with commercials for products and services which held no interest for me.  I tried to put it on speaker so that it wasn't up in my ear canal but TBG was watching tv and it was too loud for him.... in the next room... down the hall.....

and there was no escape, despite the fact that the voices told me to press 0 to speak to a representative.  I did.  Nothing happened.  The Muzak didn't change; the commercials remained the same; no mention was made of my place in a queue waiting for a human to answer my question... nothing.... except music I didn't like and ads I tried to ignore.

By the time Shannon began to speak, I had tuned out the sounds from the receiver to background noise.  When I heard her name, I perked up and paid attention.... but she'd gone quiet. 

"Are you going to put me on hold?"

"No.  Why would I put you on hold?"

"God only knows."  That was the state to which I had been reduced, lost in voice mail hell, feeling unloved and unappreciated and getting more and more pissed off by the minute. 

There had been a lot of minutes.

I explained my problem, she told me that the price had gone up in October, that I had underpaid and then correctly paid and that correct payment sent the system into shock and it paid itself back and then found that I was in arrears and I agreed that I was wrong and I went to online banking and made a catch-up payment and through all this solving and resolving neither one of us could figure out why it took BCBSAZ all this time to let me know that I was making a mistake.

It would have been easily rectified.  I would not have been thrown into a panic.  I'd have chastised myself for being negligent and I'd have moved on.  None of you would have been the wiser.  By choosing to telling me that our health insurance coverage .... will end on the date (our) payment was due, that date being three weeks prior to the receipt of the letter informing me of the problem, BCBSAZ chose to threaten.

It felt awful.  I was scared when I should have been abashed.  There was no need for that.
As Shannon and I were talking, I realized that I'd never considered my options through the ACA.  It never occurred to me that I could be a consumer of health insurance, that I could have options, that perforations and pre-existing-broken-body-parts would not preclude those pieces from coverage, that I ought to look around. 

"I have choices, now, you know." And Shannon paused, and agreed.  I'd always thought of BlueCross as the gold standard of policies.  Customer service has been quick and bright and helpful.... right up until now.  The notion that I might leave gave me a shiver of delight.  The power... the control... the sense of self-worth.

That's what pissed me off about the whole thing - it was so disrespectful. Poor Shannon had to listen.

I was over the top but I was also right; that's a dangerous combination for someone with my up-bringing.  Channeling Daddooooo results in nothing but angst on both sides of the interaction. These days, I try to imagine Little Cuter's smiling face and gentle tone... and sometimes it even manages to break through sixty some years of conditioning. 

Shannon helped me get through to the other side; by the time we hung up I was looking for contact person to whom I could send a complimentary note. She spelled the name, and I repeated it.  I looked on the letterhead for the address....and there was none. 

Even Shannon had to laugh.

It's such a simple thing to fix: provide an estimated wait time for the caller; offer a call-back option; change the message when I press 0; inform me as soon as the payments go awry.

Calling yourselves the Member Concierge Department is a nice touch, but it's no substitute for respectful and timely communications.


  1. I retired with full benefits from the big city school district. That means I get to keep the same insurance all of the faculty and staff get if I pay the same fee, which I gladly pay. The medical insurance premium is deducted directly from the teacher pension plan each month. The dental/optical is paid monthly to the district. Sometimes the district holds my check for almost the entire month before cashing it. Other months, it's cashed within a week of arrival. I learned from another retired friend who had been overpaying her dental/optical, that the district office does not notify you of overpayments but rather just credit your account. Nor does the district have this on one computerized database, but rather on handwritten ledgers. Three different departments actually handle our checks before they are deposited. So, it looks like the insurance business, no matter where you buy it, is just an odd bunch of pieces.

  2. Having been on Medicare since 65, we have supplemental insurance to cover what it does not. All has gone pretty smoothly until we got notice in December that our Medicare premium will double thanks to the new regulations. You see they now figure your premium based on your income. So 2012 determines what 2014 sees as what you are making. Except that was the year we drew out a big chunk of money to loan our kids sufficient money to buy a lake house for their second home. They are, of course paying us back as they would any mortgage, but that one time withdrawal threw us into what looks like upper income but isn't. There is no recourse. So when you get to medicare age, watch what you do each year... They don't really care what your income is. They just care what the IRS said it was for one year. It was annoying but in our case no way to explain or say hey the next year was different. Regulations, dontchaknow.

  3. And once again we all agree that insurance is an inexplicable nightmare no matter who is running it. G'ma's NY State Teachers' Union insurance was fabulous, though. All the paperwork was seamless, the benefits were tremendous, and they reminded me when things were due. One good example out of a zillion awful stories.... there ought to be a better way, dontchathink?


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