The Washington Times-Herald

December 13, 2011

Seniors shown no respect by insurance companies

Chip Minemyer
CNHI

Johnstown — Anyone who has helped a senior citizen navigate the murky waters of corporate or government programs can tell you it’s a confusing and frustrating process.

Yes, and also for the seniors.

I recently helped an individual traverse the maze of Medicare open enrollment, and found myself flip-flopping between agitation and outright infuriation.

In the months leading up to the Dec. 7 deadline for making prescription drug changes, the person received a boatload of solicitation mailings – all disguised as last-chance ultimatums.

You will lose your coverage if you don’t join us, they insinuated.

Your current insurer is ripping you off, they alleged, but we will be your savior.

They offered: Here’s an easy-to-use payment book. Just sign the attached form and send it back and you’ll be all set.

Little in the way of actual information that could help someone decide what’s best

– in terms of services and costs – for him or her.

Ironically, all the attention seemed to evaporate when we started contacting agencies and asking actual questions.

Several hours on the phone meant an agonizing journey through an electronic labyrinth of digital voice messages (“Habla Español?”) and commands (“Please press 4 if you would like to be inadvertently disconnected so you can start all over again.”).

At one point, we spoke with a long string of people in succession, all of whom:

n Put us on hold for an exasperating period of time made worse by incessant, mind-numbing chamber music playing louder than an Aerosmith concert;

n Asked us the same sequence of questions

– “What is your group number?”; “What is your policy number?”; “What is your date of birth?”; “Which is your favorite Beatle?” ...

n Decided that they were not – “And I am so sorry.” – the person we actually needed to speak with, and ...

n Put us on hold again to transfer us to another individual, who also was unable to help us and who just didn’t appreciate that our frustration level and use of colorful language had become elevated with each episode of dissatisfaction.

This happened when dealing with private companies and government offices alike.

Nobody was responsible for getting us answers.

One individual even insisted that several letters had been sent out explaining the changes and various options, although none had been received.

And we were informed that all of those form letters were available on a convenient, easy-to-use website – never mind that the person I was helping had neither a computer nor Internet access.

“Thank you. Have a nice day.”

Grrrr.

Ultimately, we got things sorted out and were somewhat comforted with the assurance that, yes, the person was all set for prescription drug coverage in 2012

– although at this writing that assurance had not been confirmed with actual hard-copy documentation.

What a travesty – companies making millions in premiums but unwilling to extend a hand to those paying their salaries.

I’ve seen similar scenarios play out with utility companies, pharmacies and other places frequented by seniors.

Customer-service representatives are too busy to provide anything resembling actual customer service.

A promise made on the phone is forgotten by the time the person arrives in person.

We’ve published too many stories about those who prey on seniors, who take advantage of them for personal gain

– committing unforgivable crimes that seldom lead to full justice for the victims.

But seniors often face unnecessary strife caused by individuals who are not engaged in illegal activities, but rather lack the professionalism or compassion to do things the right way.

It all adds up to emotional wear and tear for folks who have enough of that already.

Our seniors have dedicated their lives to living, working, raising families and contributing in many ways to our communities.

As a society, we should do better for them.

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Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa. Contact him at cminemyer@tribdem.com.