Posts Tagged ‘greed’

The Underbelly

December 1, 2010

Barack Obama should call me and set up a lunch date. Better yet, he should see my wife for a nice fireside chat about healthcare. At the local, keeping-it-real level, my wife and I know the real deal and we have had it with the system. Barack should hear about this… Give us a call, Mr. President.

And where would I begin to tell him what’s up? How about starting with medical billing and collections, the underbelly of the healthcare system.

In FXBG, VA, the Mary Washington Healthcare system has a collections department -– the cloak-and-dagger ODC Recovery Services. A conspiracy theorist would have a field day analyzing my efforts to decipher the coded ER medical bills; the time elapsed between my dates of medical services and the billing department’s filings of my insurance claims; and, the actions of ODC regarding my MRI.

Operating on a first-name only basis, from an undisclosed location, this group’s staff — in my dispute with a radiology practice that charged way above the normal and customary amount for an MRI – sprang into action prematurely, then went undercover for nearly four years, only to resurface as the statute of limitations on debt collection neared expiration; long after assuring me, the customer -– in plain English –- that my so-called ‘debt’ had been set aside because, as I had argued, the bill was “unreasonable and uncustomary”, i.e., greedy.

In court, the two ODC operatives who finally responded to my second subpoena gave honest answers under oath, but failed to recall some salient details.  There were a dozen or so other Medicorp cases that day alone, all staffed by ODC personnel, their umm, attorney, and an honorable judge.  The faces of the defendants — guilty of becoming ill while under-funded and at the mercy of the excessive costs of healthcare — mirrored the look of deer lost in the headlights, helpless to truly defend themselves.

This unforgettable scene sadly depicts the underbelly of our healthcare system.  It is time for the court of public opinion to come to session — to be heard loudly, clearly, and frequently.

It is six months later, and we continue to receive a steady stream of installment invoices to settle the debt over time, with interest. This month, we received the same bill twice, dated two days apart, with something like an 11-cent difference in the remaining balance. Same account. Two bills. Two different amounts.

I called and left a voice message for ‘Bobby’ – who handles my accounts [I have the distinct honor of having three accounts under his watch, thanks to the price-gouging MRI and two unrelated ER visits]. When he called back, I was not home. Instead, Bobby got my wife — and a life-altering experience.

After they had gone over and around and through the latest contentious debtor-debtee debate, my wife sighed and said in all sincerity and empathy to Bobby, “You must really hate your job… You should probably look for another line of work. This can’t possibly be healthy, working to collect for doctors in a system wrought with greed… I really hope you will find something better for yourself.”

I love my wife. I imagine seeing Bobby on TV someday as a champion of patients’ rights and a whistle-blower on the healthcare system.  Maybe he’d write a bestselling expose and dedicate it to her…

It probably won’t happen though. Life is not that way. ‘Mr Smith goes to Washington’ wasn’t real, and neither is real healthcare reform in my lifetime. Just follow the money. Greed will win as it always does.

The rest of us just postpone our health exams and shop for policies with lower premiums and huge deductibles. We are at risk but we can’t afford to intervene. And somewhere in America tomorrow, a middle class man will be billed the average $700 to $900 for a simple MRI, without contrast.  He’ll be lucky at that price.

Me?  I still owe more than 1100 on my $2800 snapshot. The monthly installment bill comes with interest. Sometimes two bills, two days apart, with the latter adding on a few cents more to the same account, part of which goes to paying their, umm, attorney’s fees [to the victor goes the spoils?].  My physician [ex, thank you] got a referral fee for it, I bet, and I occasionally see doctors from that radiology practice enjoying the good life of fine dining downtown.  That part is OK. It’s their right and privilege to do so. I would do the same thing if I had wealth.

But I have bills, and I bitch about these medicine men and of what I perceive to be their greed.  And Bobby?  Bobby has a lot to think about as he brown-bags-it to his job of collecting for these high-life doctors…  I wish him well.