I have always been a very poor sleeper, a problem only exacerbated in my post-chemotherapy life. Since most of my days start with irrational anxiety around 5:00 a.m., anything that interrupts my already inadequate slumber prior to that time is quite unwelcome in my boudoir. And so it was the other morning when I received a text message at precisely 4:39 a.m.
Typically, when I receive a text during my “non-business” hours, it is from either friends of mine who have had a few drinks and are immersed in not only alcohol but some type of televised sporting event or my father, who as a retired person seems to no longer own a clock. After all, does he need one? So when my phone buzzed loudly at 4:39 a.m., my initial reaction was which one of these loved ones/clockless wonders is texting me now.
Probably the only thing worse than getting a text from someone that I generally care about at an odd hour is to get a text from someone I definitely do not want to hear from – at any hour. Thus, as it turns out, this pre-dawn missive came from none other than the billing department at the facility where I received my chemo, a place I fondly refer to simply as, “The Center.”
Due to my only slightly conscious condition, I did not even bother to put on my glasses as I attempted to read what this text was about. My fuzzy vision immediately focused on the word I least like to see from The Center’s billing apparatus – i.e., “statement.” Fumbling about a bit more, I realized I needed to go to the app for The Center – because everyone has to have their own app these days – to open the message about the “statement.” After scrolling through about five pages on my phone – like I said, everyone has an app and because my time at The Center mercifully concluded over six months ago its app has been relegated to near the end, above my Philips Airfryer application but adjacent to my gas station’s app that I have never opened – I found the app, verified my ID with my thumb and looked to see what this message was all about. It was about $4,500. $4,500 The Center claims I owe them from August 1 of last year.
I am not a wealthy person, and even if I were, being confronted with a surprise bill to the tune of nearly five grand would not make me too happy. Consequently, I did what I always do in these situations – of which there have been many in my life as cancer patient – a combo panic attack/lash out at the medical establishment. Since I am wed to a member of the same, I often think that she will have some insight into how to efficaciously resolve this issue. She did: “Call them.” In addition to the generally unsatisfying content of her advice, I then realized that I would have to sit with this anxiety for several more hours. I think there should be a rule: If you are going to surprise someone with an astronomical invoice, you cannot do it unless you are prepared at that exact moment to answer a phone call disputing it. It’s just common decency.
But the reason there probably is no such rule is that by the time I was finally able to reach someone in “Billing”, I had calmed down enough that I was in little danger of insulting anyone or saying unwise things that, while undoubtedly true, would only serve to let me vent on the poor soul on the other end of the line who almost certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with this mess. (I was not completely well-behaved, however. Both of the billing personnel “team members” with whom I spoke – and I had to speak with more than one because of course the number that they give you to call is never actually the right one: “Oh, sorry. That story is troubling. I’m sure we can get it straightened out for you, but you need to call another department for that.” – had to listen to me express my disapproval of their IT department’s view of an acceptable texting time even though of course they had even less to do with that than the substance of the inappropriate text in the first place. Or so I assume.)
Fortunately, both Randy and Jody (maybe it was with an “ie” at the end – I should have asked for proper documentation purposes) were quite helpful, Randy because he transferred me to Jody/ie and Jody/ie because she put a note in the file about why this was billed to the wrong insurance company. I am not naïve – I know full well this is not the end of this issue. It’s been nearly 11 months since the date of service so the notion that it will now be resolved is at best fanciful on my part. But at least we had a good chuckle about the unrealistic possibility that it might be. Plus, she told me not to do anything – I can do (not do) that. I am excellent these days at doing nothing.
So we shall wait and see what happens. I do not wish to get political – I don’t think there is any need for that as cancer seems to hate the GOP just as much as the Dems (although I really don’t know about Independents) – but I will say this much: I find it hard to believe that these insurance companies do not intentionally unintentionally make all sorts of errors thereby delaying payments and, for the less cantankerous amongst our ranks, outright deny reimbursement. It’s a game they undoubtedly play, counting on the patient to wear down before she or he can get the insurer to admit to its obligation. And when one is dealing with cancer patients in particular, we frequently don’t have the energy to wage this battle, as just as it is.
I shall conclude with a brief admission. The title of this post suggests that it is about an EOB, but as one can tell it is really not. I used some artistic license there, but I will also add my favorite faux-explanation of the illusory difference between an EOB and an actual invoice: Once I received an EOB for another outsized bill. I called the office of the responsible physician and spoke with the receptionist. I was in somewhat of a state, as I exclaimed about the magnitude of the uncovered charges therein. The receptionist’s reply was, “Don’t worry. It’s just an EOB. It’s not an actual bill.” This well-meaning but clearly ill-informed frontliner was probably therefore shocked when I correctly responded, “Yes. I understand that. But, you see, the EOB is merely a forewarning – an omen if you will – of ill-tidings to come. And those ill-tidings will be in the form of the bill, which will indeed come.” I like to impart some wisdom to others whenever I can.