Saturday, September 6, 2014

Miscommunications by Patricia Forsythe

Have you ever been listening to someone, or having a conversation with them, and suddenly realize you’re talking at cross purposes?  That’s happened to me several times lately and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s my listening or my speaking skills that are lacking.  Here’s what happened:

                My sister, Betty, needed to visit a doctor she’d never seen before and as part of the initial visit, we were told we would need to speak to their financial counselor.  Okay fine.  After we finished our paperwork, the financial counselor – a very solemn young woman – came to the waiting room and took us to her office.  After seating us in the chairs opposite her desk, she sat down and regarded us with an uncomfortable expression – as if she’d eaten a chile dog for lunch and it was backing up on her.

                “You understand that you’ll have to make a co-pay today?”

                “Yes, of course.”

                “It could be quite substantial, as much as thirty percent of the cost of an encounter with the doctor.”  (they call them ‘encounters’ now as if it were a chance meeting in a back alley).  “Do you think you can pay that much?”

Having no idea how much that might be, I said, “Absolutely,” and immediately tried to remember if my credit card was in my purse and to wonder if I’d need to take out a second mortgage.   My sister looked at me as if she was wondering how I could make such a reckless and hasty promise, but she knows me well and understands I occasionally say crazy things. 

Looking vastly relieved, as if the chile dog had decided to stay down after all, Ms. Finance pulled out charts and tables and spreadsheets and finally determined that our cost would be . . . wait for it . . . thirty-one dollars.

I managed to repress a snort of laughter as I assured her we could pay that amount.  The girl was practically skipping with delight as she escorted us back to the waiting room.

A few days later, I called Medicare to see if Betty might be eligible for help with prescription costs since her doctors tend to go for the hundred dollar meds instead of the ten dollar ones.  The lady I talked to said she couldn’t talk to me about that without Betty’s permission, so Betty had to get on the phone and say that as her caregiver, I, Patricia, could have access to this apparently top secret information.

Once we got that straightened out, I asked my question again.

“Actually, Geraldine, your sister has been eligible for this benefit since 2006.”

“Um, my name is Patricia and we knew nothing about this eligibility in 2006.”

“Geraldine, a notice was sent to her.  If you want to instate this benefit now, I’m afraid there will be a penalty.”

“My name is still Patricia and how much of a penalty?”

“It could be quite substantial.”  (Financial people seem to like that word.  I think it means ‘open a vein and be prepared to start hemorrhaging cash’.)  “I’ll have to look it up for you, but I need to tell you upfront that the penalty is retroactive.  Since she didn’t pick up this benefit seven years ago, you’ll have to pay the penalty plus the same penalty for every year she didn’t pick up the benefit.”

“So, the penalty times seven?”

“Yes, and she will be assessed the same penalty every year from now on.”

Gulp.  Waving goodbye to my pension and any hope of future financial security, I asked, “Will it run into the thousands of dollars?”

“Oh, no, no, no.”

“Well, how much is it?”

There followed a couple of minutes of keyboard clicking, gasps of dismay, mutterings of ‘Oh no, that can’t be right’, and ‘Oh dear’. 

Finally, she came back on and said, “Thirty-two.”

Seven times thirty two is two hundred twenty-four.  Feeling faint, I asked, “Is that thirty-two hundred dollars?”  My shell-shocked brain figured that’s more than twenty-two thousand dollars a year to get prescription help for my sister.

“Oh, no, no, no.  It’s just thirty-two.”

“Dollars?”  Two-hundred twenty-four dollars a year is more reasonable.  I can live with that.

“No, no, no.  Cents.”

That was the moment when I totally lost it and began laughing with hysterical relief.  “So every year we have to pay a penalty of two dollars and twenty-four cents?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

So here’s my question – is it my listening or my speaking skills that are lacking?  I need to figure this out before our next ‘encounter’ with a new doctor – or maybe I can just send in my alter ego, Geraldine, to take care of it.


  1. Well, Geraldine, are there really people that would throw a fit over $2.40?

  2. Patricia/Geraldine - I think you should double-team 'em!

  3. Patricia, thanks so much for giving me a chuckle today.

  4. Oh, Patti! I took care of my dad for six years and I absolutely relate to this. It made me laugh. Glad to hear you're still laughing, too

  5. That's hilarious!! But good news all around...

  6. perhaps they're so used to people balking over paying out anything, they have mentally prepare themselves for backlash. lolol.

  7. If you ever need a new pen name, you're set, Geraldine!

  8. So funny! Thanks for a good laugh today!