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one of the thousand papercuts

November 18, 2011

We were pleased to find a family-owned and run pharmacy a few block from our new apartment.  The first time my wife went in there, she was charmed.  They had a special area with small chairs and a few books, filled her prescription quickly and engaged our children during the short wait.  She didn’t have her insurance card, but since the co-pay on this particular medication is often more than the out-of-pocket amount, she just paid in cash.  When she went to refill the prescription, she arrived with her insurance card and, luckily, without the kids.

Like many post-docs, my health insurance changes every time my funding source changes.  We’ve been through three different versions so far.  While none have them have been problem-free, prescription coverage has never been an issue.  New insurance? New pharmacy? Give the new card to the pharmacist who spends about 2 minutes entering/updating your file, pay the co-pay, leave with the medication.  At least that has been our privileged experience with the system up to this point.

This pharmacist spends a few minutes of squinting at the insurance card and the bottle in front of his computer and calls out “zwitterionique?”  My wife says that no, that’s her wife.  The prescription isn’t for zwitterionique, it’s for her.  The pharmacist says ” Oh.  I see. I’m going to need to call the insurance company to get this sorted out.”  And he did.  For the next 45 minutes.  Finally, my wife left to pick up the kids while he was still on the phone and called me, annoyed and a little worried.  There was, of course, an address discrepancy, but she didn’t think that was really the problem.  “I was stupid stupid stupid.  Sometimes I just forget.  I shouldn’t have called you my wife.”  Her name is less obviously gendered than mine.

When she returned (with some trepidation) later, he was there waiting for her – no longer in uniform – his shift was over.  He informed her that he had spend another hour on the phone and had “fixed” our insurance for us.  Then he scolded her.  This was the third time in the past couple months that someone “like you” had come in here.  He told us that we weren’t married and our insurance isn’t the same and we can’t just go around saying that we are because it isn’t marriage and we need to take care of stuff like that.  He finished up by giving her her new insurance number on a little scrap of paper.  Unprepared for such an assault, she said little, paid and left.

She called me and read me our new “fixed” number over the phone.  I recognized it, despite her mistaking a 5 for a J, as my social security number, followed by two numbers in parenthesis.  I called the insurance company.  They swore that federal law prevented them from using social security numbers, that they would never give out my social security number and they assured me that no one besides myself could ever make changes to my plan (only me, and they know I’m me because I securely identified myself over the phone with my name, insurance info and social security number).   I asked to speak with a manager.

While the manager mumbled about HIPPA, searched for changes on my account and was initiating the search process of the day’s recorded conversations, I called the pharmacist and asked him politely what it was that he “fixed” with my insurance.  When pushed, he gets a little angry and admits that he can’t change anything with my insurance company.  Then he reminds me that I’m not married and starts complaining that 2 hours on the phone is way too much for a co-pay as low as mine.  The manager’s manager from the insurance company gets back to me and explains how in certain cases they may give out social security numbers as a way for old accounting software to access their system.  I get off the phone and try to remember what I was doing before this blew a hole through my day.

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4 Comments
  1. That sounds horrible and stressful. It’s bullshit that you and your family have to go through this.

  2. True that. But at least I *can* cover my family (there is no law forcing the university to extend benefits), and I am typically treated respectfully enough so that I can be outraged by this.

  3. fuck that. it is always the stuff like this that catches you out of nowhere. and then totally screws your day. I secretly hope you totally went about getting this “pharmacist dude” fired or something…but I also hope you didn’t waste another second on this. ugh.

    • the dude owns the pharmacy and is unlikely to fire himself. i fumed about it and wrote a blog post. and have a new appreciation for the “this phone call is being recorded for your protection” announcements.

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