Whether purchasing a car, Internet connectivity, mobile phone service or healthcare-- most consumers are presented with a script that would bedazzle and confuse even the fast-talking con-artists hanging around the side-shows of rag-tag carnivals from the past century. You can never get exactly what you want and sometimes you don't even purchase the services or product you thought you did. We never get the same story from a different sales representatives--even though they are employed by the same corporation. Perhaps we never get the same story because we never talk to the same person twice. I sometimes wonder if they don't set their process up this way intentionally as part of a purposeful obfuscation strategy. Perhaps every other employee gets a different training manual. Who knows why this happens--but it does and consistently.
Such was my experience two years ago when I purchased a healthcare policy from United Healthcare. At the time I told the customer service representative that all I cared about was a policy that would cover the 20% of hospital costs that Medicare does not cover when one must spend time in the hospital. I've heard quite enough horror stories about people going into a hospital, only staying a week, and then being presented with a $80,000 to $100,000 bill for the 20% part not covered by medicare. The customer representative was telling me about all the various healthcare "products" offered by United Healthcare.
In the name of simplicity, I stopped her mid-stream. "Look", I said. "All I want is the cheapest policy you have that will guarantee to pay the 20% that Medicare does not pay should I be hospitalized." That should be simple and direct enough. Right?
"Well, then that would be this policy," she told me. The premiums will be $148.00 a month." I didn't misunderstand. I heard perfectly well what she said.(Keep in mind this is in addition to the $100+ that is already deducted from my Social Security each month for Medicare. So here in the great USA I'm paying about $260 a month for health insurance.)
"Fine" I said, thinking that I had communicated and been heard. I paid $148.00 a month for two years--no that's not quite right. The truth is that United Healthcare began by withdrawing in auto-payments $148 a month from my bank account. However, by December of 2015, I noticed these automatic payments had crept up to $157.36 a month--almost $10 more a month. I have no recollection of giving them permission to do that. In fact, I'm fairly certain I never did. Where are the laws that are supposed to be written by the people I send to Congress to protect me from such fraud? I guess they are too busy managing their own personal fortunes to bother with people on Main Street.
Also, please keep in mind that I never went to see a doctor during this particular time period as I had my checkups all with Medicare just prior to signing up with United Healthcare. In other words, all they did was take my money for two years--about $3, 552 not counting the $10 a month hike--All profit for United Healthcare. Add onto that another $2,400 for Medicare and in 2014 and 2015 I gave away a total of almost $6,000 to a multibillion dollar corporation and the US government.
I mentioned to a friend in November that I had this healthcare insurance that covered the 20% that Medicare doesn't. She told me that my policy did not cover the 20%. Concerned, I called up United Healthcare. Of course I didn't/couldn't speak to the person who sold me this package in the first place but I asked this representative if my policy covered this gap. "No it doesn't." She crisply replied. "Well what policy do you have that would cover that 20%?" I asked. "Oh those policies would cost about $350 a month," she said.
At that point I said, "Cancel my insurance as I'm finding something different."
I did find a company and a policy that says the premium covers the 20% . I signed up with them in November.
The story should end here but it doesn't--not by a long shot.
On January 5, 2016 I was checking my account online when I saw that United Healthcare had withdrawn $157.36 from my checking account. The withdrawal was still pending. I called them up and after being on hold for about 40 minutes I talked with a representative and told him that I wanted them to stop that withdrawal right then as I had cancelled my insurance and had already signed up with another firm for that purpose. He forwarded my call to another person. The call failed and I had to start the call process all over again. When I was finally connected with another representative, he told me that they could not stop the withdrawal but they would put the money back into my account and it would be there within 48 hours. It took me over two hours to get that resolution, or what I thought was a resolution. That was Tuesday January 5, 2016.
Today, January 12, 2016, I looked at my account online again. The $157.36 was not in my account as promised. I called up United Healthcare and talked to yet a third person from their company regarding this incident. She told me that she couldn't help me but she would forward my call to someone who could. To get to this point took 58 minutes. I told my story once again to the fourth person from United Healthcare. This person put me on hold and went to talk with his supervisors about the incident. About 8 minutes later he came back on the phone and told me that "It is company policy to not return the the funds when a customer cancels until 29 days after they cancel."
It hasn't been 29 days since I called to complain about United Healthcare taking money out of my account but it has been more than 29 days since I cancelled as evidenced by the December 9 notification from the letter of acceptance I received from the other health insurance company.
You can't just go buy what you need. You have to buy what they are selling--whether it's a healthcare insurance, Internet services, mobile phone services, a car, etc. Products are bundled these days--and not for the consumer's benefit. Products are bundled for the convenience of corporations and profits for their investors. Consumers are the last of their considerations. Consumers most often pay for a lot of things they will never use. They must purchase "a package" in order to purchase the one or two things they want. For example, I would be happy to purchase Internet services only for $30 a month from Time Warner and get an antenna for my television which I watch about twice a month. This would be much more affordable for me than the $85 a month I pay which includes access to TV shows I never watch.
Consumers are the bottom of the barrel. These people take the same attitude the carnies take toward their marks: Buyer Beware. No one is forcing you to buy anything. It's your choice--sure it is. Take it or leave it. Read the fine print.
Where does this end?
I don't think it does.
The people we send to Washington are all members of the investor class. They make a lot of money off the carnival.
They nickel and dime us while laughing all the way to bank. United Health Care is not in the business of healthcare. Like all so-called "health care" companies, they are a financial institution in the business of making money and lots of it. They have 70 million customers and reported a net income of $8.4 billion in 2015. I am only one person. My $157 they are holding for 29 days might not sound like much, but if you consider the possibility of even 100,000 customers from their pool of 70 million customers in my position, you can see how quickly the nickel and dimes pay off in short-term interest and even long-term interest if they can keep the pot at a consistent level--as one mark leaves another steps up to take that one's place.
The people we send to Washington write laws that make it easy for corporate carnies to legally take advantage of us. They do it because these politicians make money off us too. I'm not suggesting these people are doing anything "illegal." And that is precisely my complaint. Much of what they do in the name of "business" should be illegal--and in fact, until the passage of the Bank Modernization Act of 1999 WAS illegal.