The Aged Parent, who's ninety-four, received a curious letter from AARP MedicalRX Plans. MedRX is the insurance company that we've chosen to use as part of the Bush drug plan for the old folks. In point of fact, the benefit hasn't been very significant, especially since we fell into the infamous "donut hole." We pay AARP MedRX monthly by means of deductions from the Aged P's social security check.
The AARP letter to which I refer was neither cordial nor pleasant. It said this: "Our records show that you owe $108.00 for your AARP MedicalRX Plan premium. This outstanding amount is for premiums due before you changed your payment method to automatic deduction from your social security check." The letter also included a threat: "Failure to pay this outstanding balance could result in the cancellation of your coverage." I immediately suspected that the AARP claim to a hundred bucks of the Aged P's money was absolutely false. We initiated payment the very first month that the plan came into effect and we always paid by deduction. There was no possibility that the Aged P was in arrears. So I called AARP MedicalRX Plans to find out the real story. First there was the usual song-and-dance: "If you are calling about... Press 1. If you are calling about... Press 2." I pressed all the correct numbers and was put on hold for ten or so minutes. I listened to some crappy elevator music. At last, a cheery voice. "This is Anastasia. How can I help you this morning?" I explained the problem. "May I put you on hold?" "Sure." More crappy music, interrupted by, "Please continue to hold. Your call is very important to us." My call was so important that I was told it was important every twenty seconds for another ten minutes. At last, Anastasia returned. "Do you remember that last summer you received a letter saying that Social Security had sent you $108.08 in error? Me: "Yes, I do. I had several letters from Social Security to that effect." Anastasia. "Well, the money that Social Security sent to you was supposed to have been sent to us at AARP Rx. It was accidentally mailed to you." "I remember. But then I wrote a check to Social Security. I returned the $108.08 to them as they requested." Anastasia: "Well, what happened is that Social Security never sent the money to us." Me: "So then your quarrel isn't with me. It's with Social Security." Anastasia: "Exactly right. We're trying to get the money from Social Security. It's been a major confusion. We've been working on it for months." Me: "So then I don't owe you any money at all." Anastasia: "No, you don't. Just ignore the letter." Me: "Ignore the letter? Why would you send a letter to me that you expect me to ignore? Why am I wasting my time trying to figure out what your threatening letter is supposed to mean?" Anastasia: "Well, you're not alone. We've sent out over a million of these letters." Me (somewhat exasperated now): "You've sent a million letters that you know are erroneous and misleading. You've threatened a million old people with loss of insurance coverage. Why?" Anastasia: "It's because the computer is programmed to automatically send out letters when there's a premium that hasn't been paid." Me: "Why can't you reprogram the computer. How hard can it be? I'm sure it would be a lot cheaper than sending out a million letters. And then you wouldn't have to deal with hundreds of thousands of telephone complaints." Anastasia (testily): "Sir, I'm not in charge of the computers." Me: "Tell me, what do you do about the old people who don't understand your letter but figure they'd better pay you or they'll lose their coverage? Do you return their checks?" Anastasia. "I don't know. That's not my department." Me: "Thank you very much. It's been a gigantic pleasure talking with you." Anastasia. "Is there anything else we can help you with today." Me: "Can't think of thing." Anastasia: "Have a nice day."
February 2. Later, I tried to decide whether AARP Medical RX is incompetent or corrupt. It's a tough call. On the side of corruption: if they sent out a million letters and received $100 from 10% of the recipients, they would have $10,000,000 as, in effect, an interest free loan. But in theory they'd have to return the money eventually. While there would be adminstrative costs, it would still be a profitable gamble. On the side of incompetence: It probably costs a dollar to print and mail a letter, so AARP has already wasted one million dollars and will squander more on time spent trying to repair the damage. That's a lot of misspent effort. So I lean toward incompetence. However, if in the end AARP retains the money from the old folks and also keeps the money from social security, then there would be no question but that it's conscienceless malfeasance.