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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

We live in such absurd times that I just may have to write about them in a different format.

Last week a friend—who works for a company that has a reputation for putting its money behind its customer service—suggested I write a short story about my ongoing dryer saga. (No, the replacement parts have not arrived yet so the service tech cannot come out to finish the repairs. Yes, the dryer works, but not as well as a brand new dryer should.)

I joked I would have to write murder mysteries based on true customer service stories where the fed-up customer or a masked consumer advocate began doing in the CEOs of the offending companies. Stay tuned—it could still happen. Sherman, Jackson, and I had a pretty amazing brainstorming session (AKA a car trip during which we all spoke out of turn) that got me to thinking about how I could parody many of the concepts I learned at MBA school.

At least for today, no one is killing anyone, but I have to write down the most recent absurd situation so that I don’t stroke out in my frustration. Really.

Ever notice how medical practices these days have very ironclad and exacting procedures for getting the money upfront for any expected amounts due from the patient after insurance has paid? And, many of them also require you to leave a credit card on-file that you authorize for them to access for any unexpected charges.

But on the flip side, most of those practices have convoluted processes that make it hard for a patient to receive a timely refund, if not almost impossible.

In a logical world, a business would reverse out a charge. However, I’m sure those in charge figure since they had to pay a fee to take my money, then I can just wait. Some businesses, such as colleges, have decided to pass-on any banking fees charged to the institution for credit purchases, but at least the consumers (students and parents) know the terms before they charge.

Let me walk you through our recent exercise in absurdism. Our insurance company told our medical practice that our daughter’s procedure would cost us $873.04 (not that I count the pennies or anything) and that we would be expected to pay the day of the procedure. My financing plan involved putting the amounts on credit card and then getting reimbursed from our flexible spending plan in time to pay the credit card bill.

Glory be, the insurance company ended up covering the pre-arranged charges after all which meant we could only receive flexible spending reimbursement for the additional costs of $61.40 that we owed the practice. (At the same time, the insurance did not cover the $1,155.00 for the anesthesia which means we still have charges we do need to pay, one way or another.)

I don’t know about you, but even when I don’t have an outstanding obligation for over $1,000.00 elsewhere, I really can’t afford to have over $800.00 of my money sitting in someone else’s bank account.

If a person wants a medical refund in these days, that person has to initiate one. I called the practice to point out the double payment and get the refund process moving. Then I waited. Called again only to discover that the surgical center’s headquarters is out-of-state and somehow the local practice and the headquarters have to move paperwork back and forth one or two times before a check can be cut.

Well, our first refund check has arrived—in our daughter’s name. Despite the fact the insurance subscriber (the parent!) paid the bill, HIPAA rules require that refunds go out in the patient’s name if that patient is over eighteen. Great, but our daughter is away at college.

So I thought I would just deposit the check in her college checking account, of which both of her parents are co-signors. Then I could move it into the account that we use to manage college costs so that I could write ourselves a check to our regular account which would be deposited to cover the amount we had already paid the credit card company. Following me yet?

What a complicated process, but the money would go where it belonged. Except, Wells Fargo says it cannot cash this check written from Vectra Bank—I can’t even begin to understand why one large bank’s check reader cannot read another large bank’s check. Wells said if we wanted the check cashed, we just needed to take it to Vectra and get cash. That process only works if the check is in our name, which it is not.

That means six weeks after the procedure we have had to pay out money but still cannot access the money we did not owe. I’m just glad the anesthesiologist isn’t asking for his money . . . yet.

When did the absurd become so normal? At least I don’t have to worry about running out of customer service story ideas any time soon.

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