Adventures in customer service (Part 1)

I like to produce as much as I like to consume. I think it has something to do with my heretofore unstated need for validation and affection. My insurance doesn’t pay for therapy, so advice in that direction will go unheeded.

While making strides to be a constant producer, my consumption level has been waxing recently. The bank has called several times to make sure my cards haven’t been stolen and that I’m not presently using methamphetamines. I like to mess with them buy telling them I can’t talk because some tweaker just stole my Amex and set my house on fire.

Mass consumption means I also have to wade through a puddle of humanity that is colloquially termed “customer service.” The past few days have led to several encounters. Here’s the first.

“You can’t put a price tag on a baby!”

I don’t have one of your fancy corporate health care plans. I pay more for insurance each month than I pay for my home mortgage. I look at it as an investment in an insurance exec’s future. Those guys work hard and deserve the second home in the Caymans.

I consider it lucky my wife got pregnant before this month’s premium was due. After giving both arms, both legs, and my spleen, Blue Cross had started asking for testicles. I don’t have to tell you how many of those I have. Ironic, I think, that my plan doesn’t cover maternity costs.

I knew about this going in. Adding maternity to the plan over the past four years I’ve had it would have cost a lot more than the cost of having a baby (yes, really). I had a ballpark idea of how much the OB and hospital costs would be for the wife and little Dos, but I was working with a +/- of $4,000 on either side of my figure. I wanted a better idea of how big a check I’d be writing.

The OB’s office was really good about telling us how much the services would cost. “In fact,” they said, “you can just pay us now!” We did. It hurt, but we did.

The hospital was another story.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’d called the hospital. My wife had called the hospital. My wife had e-mailed the hospital. No response. Yesterday, my wife put on her bitch face and went down in person. I wasn’t there, but the conversation went a little something like this:

Wife: Can you tell me how much it will cost to have my baby here?

Hospital finance lady: No.

Wife: I presume you’ve charged someone for this service before. How much did it cost then?

Hospital finance lady: (Blank stare)

Wife: How about this? What is the average cost of having a baby here?

Hospital finance lady: There is no such thing as an average. Scientists use that phrase to justify wild assertions about global climate change. You are one of those tree huggers aren’t you? Hippie.

Wife: Listen, bitch, give me a number.

In the end, the woman ended up writing down a few numbers on a Post-It note, ever-concerned that the wife was comparing and contrasting against the other big hospital in town. When my wife asked for a basic schedule of charges out of a real printer and on real paper, the finance lady refused. We’ve been made to understand that even local doctors offices can’t get the information.

Keep in mind, we really like this hospital. When we had out first son, we chose this hospital because all the rooms are private and once you check in, you stay in that room until you leave. Labor, delivery, and recovery are all in the same place. The nurses are great and the experience was as fantastic as 17-hours of pain, vomiting, and screaming can be.

The upshot of all of this is that this hospital, and presumably others, don’t like to give out this kind of information for a variety of reasons. First off, because we are what is considered “self-pay,” we get a pretty substantial discount over the insurance companies (yet another reason your insurance costs so much). It still costs more than seems at all reasonable, but it’s still a discount. Secondly, if you don’t know how much it will cost, you don’t think about the Pentagon hammers of the maternity world. How much do a couple of Tylenol and diapers cost in the real world? How much do they cost in the magical world of your local maternity ward?

Fortunately, we’ve gotten good advice on this subject from both the OB and, eventually, the gate keeper of financing at the hospital. Turns out we can bring in our own diapers, pain meds, etc. and avoid getting charged hundreds of dollars for that stuff (again, consider why your insurance costs so much).

Now, before you (and yes I’m talking to the doctors among the readership) go off and start telling me how no one delivery is the same and it’s impossible to nail down the costs in advance, I know that. I know that certain procedures cost more than others and I know if we get in the delivery room and my wife breaks half of the equipment in a delivery-room homage to the Incredible Hulk, it will cost me more. I get it. That is no reason, however, to not have a menu of sorts that can tell us how much each procedure, medicine, and facility will cost. (“I’ll have the labor and delivery with an epidural on the side, but is it possible to hold the episiotomy?”)

So, we have now have a bouncing baby Post-It note that tells me how much it will likely cost me to bring Dos into the world. I need to call 3M and ask how well–on average!–Post-It notes hold up in court.

In the meantime, I have this message for the customer service rep: We’re having a boy. You can hang the price tag on his penis.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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9 Responses

  1. KenP says:

    Accountants are very creative folks. They move the walnut shells around and can find a pea under all three. Although, that can come with an orange jump suit.

    They are also rats trained to run through a maze to get the reward.

    Max creativity and bigger mazes than Halloween corn mazes are the land of health care.

    Have you checked to see if there are any birthing facilities and their services that are available in your area? I’ve seen some good reviews on them.

    Too bad the lil’ women isn’t Indian. On the march they’d leave the trail for a few minutes, squat, then return with the baby. Are you sure you aren’t spoiling the girl? You might check with the Mohawks. They might deliver DOS for FPPs.

  2. Da Goddess says:

    You are very smart to go this route with labor & delivery. When I worked at a hospital in what was described as the 13th poorest area of the country (I’m just repeating THEIR stats) just across the US-Mexican border, I regularly had patients from Mexico deliver at this hospital because they could pay in cash. CASH. They got major discounts. Discounts like you wouldn’t believe. And our care was excellent.

    Keep thinking outside the box and save yourself the hassle of adding maternity care to the insurance. You’re a smart man.

    And I want your wife to go into battle with my work comp insurance company. She’s feisty!

  3. Special K says:

    As long as you are looking into options for the birth of your boy, here is one that you will probably consider (for about a second):

    Enjoy your time at home.

  4. Rickey Henderson who is a first ballot HOF baseball player, the greatest player in my life time, my favorite player ever, and of course the person who taught The Rooster to speak in the 3rd person…cough!cough! Well Rickey was born in the back of a car. Have you ever discussed this option with the wife?

  5. Dr. Chako says:

    Thank goodness I work in a healthcare system where my pay has no bearing on a patient’s (or insurance company’s) ability to pay. Having babies here is free!

    Have you considered joining the Army?


  6. Little Willie says:

    Don’t blame the hospital or the finance lady. Blame the lawyers. I am sure the finance lady was already hearing the NEXT conversation in her head…

    You: “6 Months ago you said it would cost us about $xxx to have a kid. Now you go and charge me $xxx + yyy ?!!? That’s bait and switch lady! You’ll be hearing from my lawyer. You’re not getting a penny from me.”

    Finance Lady: “Sir, I told your wife it was only a very rough estimate. She made me write down a number. I did the best I could.”

    You: “Don’t blame this on my wife, lady! She’s still sick from the mistakes you guys made while she was here. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer about that, too! I’m gonna own this hospital when I’m done with you!”

    and… Scene.

  7. tammiemac says:

    I’ve heard of a few home birth options. 🙂 Mid wife, giant tub of water…

    I agree, just give me a menu list of all possible procedures – that’s all I’m asking. Simple enough?

  1. January 29, 2009

    […] Adventures in customer service (Part 1) […]

  2. January 30, 2009

    […] Adventures in customer service (Part 1) […]