Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Just Another Sicko Day

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I went to my pharmacy to get another prescription filled, an act that's become so routine for most of us that we go through the drive-in window to get our pills. Only this time, things were different. My health-provider's card, which used to assure me a generally reasonable price, was rejected. I either had to pay full price, which was so outrageous I could hardly believe my eyes, or straighten it out with my provider, which quit doing business the usual way two days earlier. If I paid full price, the pills cost 10 times more, I kid you not. A $10 drug suddenly cost more than $100, so I decided to straighten it out with my health provider.

After going through two rounds of voicemail hell I got a human who told me that the provider had spun off its drug prescriptions to another company that should have sent me a card that would insure that I got my usual medication at the covered price. The human was good enough to give me a number for this new drug company, and after several rounds of voicemail hell "due," quote, "to an unusual heavy volume of calls," unquote -- yeah, I bet -- I got through to another human who informed me that my card should have been sent weeks before. The trouble was, it had been sent to an old address that I had changed on every form I could think of, including that of my health provider. Well, that's easy, I said, change the address and send me a new one. That's not possible, the human said, you have to have your provider send us your new address. But, I said feebly, I have just given you all the information that proves that I am me: my SSN, my HMO number, my birth date, my mother's maiden name. That may be, he said, but we must receive your address change from your provider. Go to round five of voicemail hell back to my provider where, after a good half-hour, I punched into my cell phone everything a robot asked about me: my SSN, my HMO number, my birth date, my mother's maiden name. When the robot was satisfied, I had only three more circles of hell to go through before I found a human, who asked me the exact same information the robot had. After ascertaining that I was really me, she listened to my problem and said that she couldn't possibly change my address, because such a change had to come on a form provided by the employment benefits office of my workplace.

At this point I said, not so feebly: Why can't you just move your cursor to the top of the page and enter my new address and forward this address to your spin-off company so I can get my frigging drug at the price you guarantee because I pay a whole lot of frigging money every month for that discount? Well, that was when I heard the click of the abyss and the HMO human shoved me off the edges of her consciousness.

Determined to keep my cool, I called my place of work and was directed through hell -- a more familiar hell, I must admit -- to the Human Resources Office, where a taped message informed me that the holder of that office was not going to be there on such and such dates, which had already passed, but if I left a message he'd get back to me. And then I got another message, which was that his message box was full and unable to take any more messages. At this point, homicidal Luddite urges -- also familiar, I must admit -- started racing through my barely contained cool. Had this man's message box not been full, God only knows what colorful expletives I might have invented to inform him of my feelings. Luckily, he wasn't there and his box was full, so I'm using my expletive-making machine in a fictional story that should earn me enough money to pay for the difference between my covered drug benefit and what I actually paid.

This story could go on forever, and there wouldn't be one American in this vast country who wouldn't agree with me. I decided that instead of lowering myself deeper and deeper into the bureaucratic muck they call health care in this country, I'd go through unorthodox channels and beg someone in a nearby office to find this "benefits" representative for me and have him respond. I succeeded in having him found -- thank you, Stacy, you're a dear -- and when found, he emailed me a hugely nonsensical form full of inexplicable language that I was supposed to sign, mail back to him, after which he'd forward my address change to my health provider so that they could forward it to their spin-off drug company so that they could send me a card so that I could pay for my drug what I was supposed to pay in the first place. Not to mention the fact that this workplace "benefits" guy should have done this months before, when I entered my change of address in every official document. All I can say is, God bless Michael Moore and Stacy, vote for Hillary Clinton and take your Xanax like good boys and girls.

Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).

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