Friday, September 21, 2018

For Nine Hundred a Month you’d think that…

I pay $900 per month for health insurance.   For that I get a high deductible followed by a thirty percent co-pay that eventually tops out at $4,000 (in network).   Most years I don’t make the deductible amount because I’m afraid to go to the doctor.  I believe that the word ‘deductible’ has come to mean ‘bend over, this won’t hurt a bit.’

I used my insurance this year.  Ankle surgery was necessary to correct ligament and tendon damage due to ‘chronic ankle sprain’.  It hurt to walk prior to the surgery and the surgery to correct it hurt my pocketbook.  A lot.

The Twin Cities has a lot of good medical and surgical options available and I opted for the surgical clinic that did my hip three years ago.  The clinic is affiliated with all of the medical insurance plans.  I called my insurance helpline to double check, though, just in case. 

“You’ll need a referral from your primary care provider,” they said. 

“But my insurance says that this clinic is in-network,” I said.

“You have to switch to another primary care provider to have the clinic actually BE in network,” they said.  “But we can do that for you as of the beginning of last month, no problem.”

I went through the paperwork by phone and two days later had another insurance card with my new network listed.  The required primary care facility was over an hour away from my home and I did not think to call them for an appointment.  I’ve always seen a doctor at a clinic near where I live. 

I scheduled my surgery and necessary pre-operation physical.  The physical came first.  According to new standards, I now have high blood pressure.  Actually, my BP is about the same as it used to be but they lowered the range of acceptable and I now fall on the high side of the scale.  My doctor looked at her online iPad which told her that I need to be on some sort of med because I am 64 years old.  Having a tantrum did me no good.  I bought have the prescription. 

After a return trip to check on my blood pressure, which went low enough after taking the prescription to actually put me to sleep, I was declared fit.  The surgery was done and I was out of the clinic in a couple of hours.  I looked forward to an uncomfortable and long recovery.

The bills started to arrive.  I paid my portion of the bills and watched as I neared the $4,000 out-of-pocket costs.   One invoice was listed as out of network but I didn’t question it since it was for my pre-op physical.    ‘Big deal’ I thought. 

At least that was okay until I had my colonoscopy that had been referred by my local pre-op doctor.  Suddenly I owed more than a thousand dollars over the deductible.  I called my insurance company.  I questioned their billing tactics and yelled at the first actual person who answered the phone.  Even my prescription-controlled blood pressure blew up.

Insurance companies hire really good and patient customer service reps.  I believe about thirty percent of my premiums go toward their salaries.  Insurers know that every claim that is denied will be disputed by irate, nearly bankrupt old people who probably didn’t follow the instructions.  The rep’s job is to sympathize and empathize and agree with us that the system sucks completely and that someone should go after those execs who write the stupid policies. 

Those guys are good.  I calmed down.  I relied on their expertise to fix whatever problem had occurred.  I have no idea what happened or how the problem got resolved but I now have a new primary care clinic that actually allows me to go to the doctor I already see.  What a relief! 

A few days later, I received a complaint form in my email.  It requested that I detail the issues and asked if I wouldn’t mind making suggestions as to how to fix the issues.  Basically, it said “You whined and now we want you to formalize the whining.”

I couldn’t remember the problem.  Apparently those same customer service reps have the power to make one forget everything that happened.  I deleted the form.  I also received one in the mail, just in case I had deleted the email form.  This extra expense probably accounts for another ten percent of my insurance premiums.

I always try to make a point with my little essays.  Here’s today’s lesson. 

We have managed to screw up our healthcare system, our insurance system and the doctors who are supposed to take care of us.  It now costs more than ever (and, by the way, my insurance went up by six percent this year… it did NOT go down as was propagandized) to insure ourselves and we are afraid of going to the doctor because the premiums and deductibles are so high. 

Somehow, though, the insurance companies have made themselves more powerful, more able and more a part of our lives than ever.  We have to ask the health insurance companies for permission to go see doctors.  It doesn’t always seem that way, but when we have a problem, we are guided toward the right places by patient advisors who make us feel lucky that we met them.  While we do our best to care for ourselves, we are becoming fully dependent on someone else to tell us how we are actually allowed to care for ourselves, what specialists we can see and when. 

There may be a good result in some ways.  Maybe the insurance companies will guide us toward losing weight and ultimately be our perfect caretakers.  Wonder how much of a premium I’d have to pay for that kind of service?

Gotta go.  I have to call my customer service rep and ask for some investment recommendations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Are we done yet?

A friend and I were discussing the Bible recently.  I wondered why nothing has been added to it in so many centuries and suggested that perhaps it was time for another chapter or two.  She told me that it was complete as written and that there was nothing left to add.   When I said that I found this hard to believe, her response was that everything from the beginning of time until the End Times is included, forecast and chronicled.  It’s all we need.  There is nothing more to tell.

Progress is an interesting phenomenon.  Take a somewhat closer look at the last two thousand years and you’ll find that humanity and society have made tremendous leaps in science or technology or philosophy at a few points in our known history and also have shown absolute stagnation a few times.  We had the Dark Ages followed by the Industrial Revolution.

Most recently, the invention and development of computers and telephone technology has proceeded at a very fast rate.  There were several years during the 1990’s when I was hesitant to buy a computer because every few months there was a new model that made everything else obsolete.  Changes happened so fast that by the time I’d get a computer home I had a compelling reason to go buy the next generation. 

Technological innovation is geared toward making our lives easier.  Windows started out as a clunky, horrible program and has evolved, like Apple’s operating system, into a self-teaching set of interactive programs that make it simple for us to get any information we need.  Spreadsheet work is intuitive and spell-check handles not only our spelling errors but even some of our grammatical mistakes.  Phones are just simply amazing today.

Here’s the thing, though.  We are getting to the point where we have just about everything that we want.  New cell phones advertise ‘Better Cameras and More Pixels!’  Most other improvements are not at all earth shattering.  I just traded my eight-year-old laptop on a newer model and see very little change in the operation.  Technological change is slowing down.

My personal observation is that when you provide a certain level of comfort to a person or group of people, they stop looking for more.  At some point, it requires ‘too much effort’ to improve something that already does most of what you want it to do. 

I used to be very excited about the very cool stuff we were going to have, according to all of my favorite Sci Fi authors.  Heinlein, Asimov and many of the others worked very hard to project advancement to a point where they could create believable futures.  Those futures had flying cars, advanced limb regenerators and all sorts of matter transmitters.  I was completely absorbed with the fantastic but realistic future we were going to have.

Science Fiction has changed a lot since I first started reading it.  It doesn’t seem as much like fictional science and it really shares a lot in common with what we used to call fantasy.  I wonder if this means that writers themselves are not able to look into a farther future and make further predictions about where we are headed.   

Most importantly, these very same writers today are something of an indication that we’re already there.  Development is slowing.  Engineers are needed but the call for actual scientists is on the wane and in many cases, we talk quietly about what ‘real science actually means and ask what happened to peer review. 

I worry about that.  Humanity should be curious.  We should want to know everything.  We should always be challenged by the things that we don’t have and by the future that we don’t know.  If we actually lose that momentum, we stagnate and the Bible won’t require another chapter at all.  We’ll hit End Times pretty quickly and will disappear without so much as a whimper.
Wow.  That’s depressing.  I’m going back to dreaming some more. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Hard Sell

After graduating college I was hired as a department manager for a large retail chain that no longer exists.  Our store was not terribly successful so we experienced a certain amount of manager turnover. 

During my final week as a department manager, we welcomed a new general store manager who viewed credit card applications as a road to success.  I hated asking customers for them and the new store manager saw that as a complete failing on my part.  It led to my immediate demotion to commission sales in the appliance department at a different store.

The transition was pretty easy.  I learned how to recognize buyers versus browsers and I learned how to sell appliances that I had never used and couldn’t possibly afford.  It was really fun.

The competition in that department was fierce.  There were usually three or four people on the floor hunting for customers.  The goal was to snag a buyer and then wall them off from the rest of the sales crew.  We all developed our own techniques for doing this.  It was a daily competition that only the truly hungry could survive.

I learned a lot about closing sales during that time.  First, I learned how to read reactions to statements about price, delivery and product.  Second, in order to sell something, you needed a person’s full attention.  If the customer likes you, they listen to you.  They also are much more likely to buy from you. 

The third thing I learned was that if I had to stop in the middle of a sale to ask someone else a question about a product, or if I had to glance at the owner’s manual, the sale was almost always lost.  There would be no more customer when I got back.  Worse, someone else would step in, ‘help me out’ and take the sale. 

I spent time studying the washers, driers, stoves and refrigerators I was selling.  I learned how long a cycle took, how much water was consumed and how much power each one used.  When customers asked questions, they could count on my confident answers.  Sales were easy and upsells were absolutely assured.  

Today, I spend a lot of time talking with salespeople about the best way to adjust logos for embroidery.  I try to suggest alternatives and edits when possible in order to get the logos to sew most accurately and clearly.  A few of my customers pay attention and when they move on to their next customer, they apply what they have learned in order to advise the new buyer.  They tend to close their sales much more quickly and profitably.  Their customers generally have more realistic expectations of the appearance of their apparel.  Sales are faster and smoother and ultimately very profitable.  They take the time to learn their product.

On the converse are those salespeople that send a design with no instructions and who expect me to just know what the right answers will be.  On the one hand, this allows them to slide away from any responsibility regarding design or quality.  If they can blame mistakes on the decorator, they never lose any money.  On the other hand, they are not keeping their customer’s attention, they are not closing the sale and they are certainly not going to get value added sales. 

The sales profession is a tough one in many regards.  It requires a very tough skin and a willingness to have doors slammed shut.  Beyond that, a little bit of knowledge and the willingness to advise a customer, ask questions and show some interest in what they are selling. 

I learned to sell things a long time ago.  Our culture has changed a lot since I started selling and yet the process remains pretty much unchanged.  The very best salespeople make their customers into experts, provide them with honest information and deliver as promised.  In order to do this, those very same salespeople have to know their product, advise their customers and have a genuine interest in what they are selling and to whom.
Of course it’s much easier to take no interest and rely on someone else to do your thinking.  I just don’t understand where that could be a very fulfilling way to pass the day. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Who's there?

We have been so busy making every child college ready that we neglected to provide those budding managers with one important thing.  We forgot to make sure that there were enough working employees who could be managed.

I have had a help-wanted ad on Craigslist for the past couple of weeks.  I have hired three people, interviewed ten and left dozens of messages.  Of the three people that were hired, one worked three weeks, missed four days and sent a text on the fourth of his missed days saying that he got this incredible job offer and wouldn’t be returning. 

The second came in for one day, cost us over $200 in incorrectly addressed shipments, left for lunch the following day and sent a text saying that “The job does not meet with my expectations.”  Yes, that is an exact word for word quote.

The third accepted an offer on a Thursday and told us that he would be in the following Monday morning.  And on Monday he was a no show, no phone call, no message, I couldn’t even get an answer from his references. 

I learned that ‘ghost’ has become a verb.  It means, “I am gone, disappeared and not available.  I won’t answer your texts, calls or emails and I’m going to pretend that you can’t even see me.”  Look for it next year in Webster’s.

One of the interviewees was asked back for a second interview.  She sent an email on the Sunday before her Monday second interview saying that her car was broken and she needed to take it in on Monday so would not be able to make her appointment.  I sent an email back and tried phoning on that Monday.  Another ghost.

Who does this shit?  Really.  Who does this?

I have a theory of course.  It starts with us.  That is ‘us’ the older generation.  The blame rests on us.  You see, we’re getting older and soon enough will be dependent on the kids.

Our government has done a fabulous job of scaring the hell out of the youngsters.  Baby boomers are retiring and the shrinking population of laboring children has to support them.  Social security is a big tax and may not be around forever (according to our government) and yet all those poor children still have to pay into the system.  It is a huge burden.  So yes, we older folks caused the problem.
I have a couple of comments about how the younger generation is handling this issue. 

At least half of you have never learned the value of showing up.  I’m not kidding about the half, either.  I recently discussed the situation with a temp personnel agency.  The operations manager said that his agency had reduced the number of interviewee no-shows from fifty percent to thirty percent.  He was proud of his agency for having done so well! 

Showing up is a lot of the job, by the way.  If you did that, you might discover the value of working.  At least you might discover that the income you generate pays for your stuff.  Otherwise, where the hell do you get your stuff?  After all, your parents eventually stop paying for everything although a lot of them seem to be involved in paying off your student loans.  I suppose that’s okay, though. 

After all, they are the ones who worked so hard to make you college ready and then prepared you for that cushy job you didn’t get. 

Oh, another thing.  More than a few of us old people realize that the burden you carry is tough.  You have no guarantees about retirement or pensions and the companies you work for don’t offer them these days.  We have been watching the news and we realize that you might benefit from our experience.  More than a few of us want to help and we find it disconcerting that you ignore us.  I’m talking about your grandparents.  Your parents, who taught you that it’s okay not to show up, need to be put into a corner for a time out. 

While you are busy not showing up, the government is busy taking over your life.  Do you realize that each time you step away from the process, someone steps in and limits your reentry?  The door gets narrower each time.  Pretty soon, you’ll be wondering how in the hell you found your way into the jail that your life has become. 

Look, I realize that all the good jobs are taken.  There are no more CEO positions out there and the chairs with footstools are all gone.   You don’t get a bonus for showing up at an interview and you also don’t get applauded for coming to work.  In fact, someone may tell you that your work needs improvement or, heaven forfend, you are not getting the job done.  Those are all good things, by the way.  They mean that someone is paying attention to you.

Okay, I’ve said my piece.  Time to move on and write something for next time.  See you at work.