Susan Estrich: Hello, no one can help you
Summary: All the input is wrong, there are no people to talk to, but tell your new doctor to trust the system. Will my doctor believe that? She laughs. We both do. We both know the answer. The doctor will probably have no choice. Neither do we.
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"A supervisor will just write down your complaint and send a message. I just sent a message. There's no one you can talk to. There's no one anyone can talk to. The supervisors can't talk to them."
"Them" is the processing center.
No, I'm not talking to a call center in the Philippines, where operators claim to be from Detroit and couldn't name the baseball team if their lives depended on it. Which, sadly, they probably do. This is down the street from me in West Los Angeles, the Social Security office, where they process applications for Medicare. For voters.
Good news. I'm talking to a person. A real, live person. Who, it becomes clear, has been working there for a while. Which is not necessarily good news. She knows too much. She knows that she can't help me, that there is no one there who can help me and that there is no one anywhere else for me to talk to. She knows that I am wasting my time and hers. This is what it means to be informed. We both try to be courteous, which, given the circumstances, is not easy.
The information was all "input" last month. All done properly. All the necessary information. I've worked since I was 15. Every single quarter. The guy actually laughed on the phone the first time around, when I thought, "This is easy; I fill out a form, mail it in, confirm with a person and then whoosh ... Who says government doesn't work?" I'm not asking for welfare. Just what I'm owed, sort of, after paying in for 50 years.
No sound? There is no sound. The card is not in the mail. We understand your other insurance is expiring. No question about eligibility.
The second time I am told that everything was "input" properly, I know it wasn't.
The third time, when I am told that it's not the fault of anyone who "input" the information, I know that it almost certainly is. Was the information "input" at the center I am talking to, the office down the street with real people? It was.
"Is it being processed there?" I ask. No. That's the processing center, the place with no address and no phone number and no people that anyone (even her supervisor) can talk to. I imagine an underground bunker with a big red phone that no one answers because there is no one there, only machines that don't talk. It can't be. We are talking about Medicare Part B, not nuclear war. Where are the people?
What about the secretary of Health and Human Services? Does he talk to them? Do I write to my congressman? Write a letter to the editor? The woman thinks I'm kidding. Obviously, I'm not.
What am I supposed to do?
"Don't worry," the woman tells me, "even if you don't get your card in time, the benefits will be retroactive." I start to laugh. We both do. We are the luckiest people on the face of the globe. When things are working, we get the best health care in the world. When they aren't, which is most of the time, we mostly find a way through. It is rarely easy. Had a blood draw lately? Every time I leave a hospital, I give thanks. I feel like I'm leaving a war zone, and very often I am. The woman at the other end of the line is working in one. None of us has had time to catch our breath, and now it feels like we are already back in the tunnel.
All the input is wrong, there are no people to talk to, but tell your new doctor to trust the system. Will my doctor believe that? She laughs. We both do. We both know the answer. The doctor will probably have no choice. Neither do we.
Susan Estrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.