Monday, January 14, 2013

Dear Senior Citizens, How do you manage alone?

"I wonder if I'm ever going to get my bill for my health insurance," my mom says to me while I linger in the kitchen avoiding the dastardly coughing woman in my yoga class. Last night the wind rattled my windows, rattled my house, rattled my bones, and my very soul. Without any sleep this could be the morning Coughing Woman breaches my immune system---so I have a second cup of coffee. Oops, too late to go to yoga now.

"What was that you said about a bill, Mom?" My exhausted brain hears the alarm bell, albeit ever so faintly. Out from her bedroom she shuffles with an invoice from December, explaining that the December 1st payment was the last one she'd made. My mother has Medicare, but she also has supplementary insurance through the City of Baltimore where she worked for several years as a janitor in city office buildings. With all of her health issues, she needs that secondary insurance. The upper right hand corner of the last month's invoice carries a terrifying advisory, "If payment is not received by the due date, coverage will be terminated." Last week's trip to the emergency room rose up like an anvil ready to drop. "Uh-oh," I say. My mom went on to explain that the City of Baltimore sends a packet of a year's worth of invoices every January--but they always send them late. The payment is due on the first of the month, but the invoices never arrive in time.

I decide to call the employee benefits phone number listed on the invoice. It's 9:00 a.m. in California. There is no answer in Baltimore. Maybe I mis-dialed. I try again. Lunch? I try an hour later. Still no answer. No outgoing push one for this, two for that message either. Is it a holiday in Baltimore? A week long festival for the inauguration? Martin Luther King Jr. Week? I try the main number for the City of Baltimore. The menu of selections doesn't apply to what I need, but I select for speaking to a real live person and remain on hold for, I dunno, ten minutes? Meanwhile, my mom and I discuss auto-pay options--putting her monthly health insurance premiums on a credit card and enduring the service charge, auto-deducting  the payment from a checking account; why we should do this, i.e. what if you're sick mom, and in the hospital, and I forget to pay it for you? Still, I'm on hold, so I hang up. I grab the iPad and go to the City of Baltimore website expecting to see some banner across it: "City Closed on Mondays," or "Monday is Furlough Day." No. So I scroll through each link to see if we can accomplish setting up the auto-pay online. No. I try the first number again. Ah! "Push one for employee benefits." The person I speak to ensures me that they have the correct address for my mom, that yes, they send out the invoices late every year, that no her coverage isn't lapsed. "I'd like to enroll her in auto-pay," I say. She tells me that the person I need to talk to is on another call. She'll call me back.

It's noon now in California. 3:00 in Baltimore. While waiting, I've checked on my Mom's catastrophic coverage from Care First--which is, essentially, Blue Cross and Blue Sheild, too. My mom thought she'd changed her address with Care First by enclosing notification of her new address with her payment some months before her move here in August. When we finally received the forwarded invoice from them for the next payment, her coverage had lapsed. It took a bit of ranting, but I got it re-instated. It turned out that if you want to change your address with Care First, you need to call them, wait on hold for awhile, and then have them tell you the address of the mail room administrator in Lexington, Kentucky. This address appears nowhere on their invoice. There are no instructions of any kind on the invoice for changing your address. They will, however, drop you like a hot potato if your invoice goes to the wrong address causing you to pay late. But this morning, no worries there. She is paid up currently (after the near disaster of the lapse.) I requested a letter of confirmation. Which I had already requested in writing back in August when I wrote them a letter then after the reinstatement.

I assume that if we had national health insurance in a single-payer model, it would work much like Medicare. Here I am. A person. A citizen. I have this coverage. There would be no dancing around with invoices sent late. No slipping through the cracks. "Ooohhh, this country will never have health care like that!" my mom says.

Oh, dear old people,  especially you who are hard of hearing or with failing eyesight, you who are not computer literate, you whose blood pressure spikes a bit as you struggle to decipher "press 1 for this, 2 for that, etc," how do you manage? From the bottom of my heart, I hope someone is helping you.


Ms. Moon said...

How does anyone do it alone? Especially the elderly.
I don't know. I just know that your mother is incredibly lucky to have you to help her.

Allison said...

We are helping my M-I-L and it's about 5 hours a week of phone calls and bird dogging the various policies. MIL is 98 and totally incapable of doing ANY of this. Being childless I have no idea who will do it for me. Honest to whatever, I hope I die before I get to that point.