Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time and Experience

As a shuffle through a week's worth of mail on the kitchen counter, I find scattered in with the junk mail and bills an envelope with Jack's name on it.  I've learned not to throw anything away without opening it first because everything looks like junk mail these days.  Sure enough, the letter is from a collection agency.  My friends at Apria sent us to collections for 21 freaking dollars! This company that collects at least $3000 a month from us for Jack's equipment and supplies, sends us to collections for $21. Ridiculous!

But that's not the point of this post.

Five years ago a letter from a collection agency would have enraged me.  My "fight or flight" response would have kicked into high gear and my response would have been 110% fight.  I would have picked up the phone, cursing the entire time I was on hold and then likely yelled at the person on the other end who had the audacity to call me "Ma'am". (You know that condescending tone I'm referring to.)  I would have furiously pounded out a letter to Apria threatening legal action if they didn't remove my account from collections. I would have stewed all night about the injustice of it all, and then rushed into the office to fax the letter off to Apria first thing in the morning.

I would have done that . . . five years ago.

Now, I simply tuck the letter into my "Personal" folder that I shuffle back and forth between home and work every day.  My folder full of stuff that requires attention whenever I can find a few spare minutes here and there at work to deal with it. Today -- a good two weeks after it arrived in the mail -- I pulled out the letter.  I called Apria's billing department.  I calmly explained to them that we have Medicaid as our secondary insurance and that not only do we not owe the $21, it's against the law to bill us for it.  I calmly explained that for reasons I don't understand, they (Apria) unilaterally changed the party they bill as our secondary insurance.  I calmly explained that we've been getting our respiratory equipment from them for over seven years and that we've always had Medicaid as our secondary, that they have always been paid by our Medicaid provider until recently when someone at Apria decided to change who they were billing as our secondary insurance.  Based on the clicking of the keyboard I was hearing through the phone, the person at the other end was furiously typing his notes as I was giving him my spiel.  At this point, my call had already been escalated to the next level. (Which likely means nothing more than that the person answering the phone didn't want to deal with me, so he put me on hold hoping the call would roll over to the person sitting next to him.)  I provided contact information for the person at the agency they are supposed to bill as our secondary, and I was assured that the matter would be handled expeditiously.  I calmly ended the call with "I won't hold my breath, but thank you for your help today".

Now what to do about the collection agency threatening nothing short of imprisonment if I don't cough up the $21?  (Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration.) As I look at the letter, I realize it's addressed to Jack.  I remember that the monthly billing statements from Apria are addressed to Jack, and when I call Apria's billing department, they ask for Jack's date of birth.  Everything is tied to Jack.  Fact is, Jack doesn't give a rip about his credit score.  And, while I recognize that I'm personally liable for my minor child's medical bills, I'm not going to sweat over the $21 allegedly owed to Apria or the collection letter.  I calmly put the letter back into the folder and cross it off my list of things to deal with.

Done.  Calmly.   No ranting, no raving, no high blood pressure or spitting nails.  A simple phone call, a simple explanation and the ability to LET.IT.GO after that.

It's amazing what time and experience gets you.  You learn that "it is what it is" and all the screaming and cursing in the world won't change it.  You learn that you are so not in control, and you learn not to sweat the small stuff -- and the majority of it is small stuff.

I've lived so much of the last (almost) eleven years in a constant state of urgency and anger, with a "my way or the highway" attitude. (Well, let's be honest, I've probably lived most of my life that way.) And certainly, I still have my moments and there are still those times when my "fight" response kicks in.

However, time and experience have tempered the anger and have brought to me patience, confidence and perspective.  All things that make for a much better -- and healthier -- way to approach each day.

And if you don't believe me .... just ask the guy at Apria.


worthy said...

Well done you Ann! I'm afraid I still find myself seething from time to time, sometimes it makes you feel better to have a rant. i made a call to register a minor complaint this morning and while on hold, there was a recording of a woman giving recipe suggestions!! I was ready to throw the phone at the wall by the time I got to speak to a human being, but remained calm.

Sarah said...

Given that you and I are shaped from a very similar mold, I gave up doing anything with bills and insurance years ago. Now Chris deals with it. It really takes the stress off my plate when someone calls and I can honestly say that I have NO idea what they are talking about and that they'll have to wait to talk with my husband. Good for you for staying calm!!

ssouth said...

When Jason was home more than I he dealt with the fury calls, but it fell to me when I stopped working. It's incredible how time consuming it is dealing with all the non-medical crap that comes with it. I always hoped that Apria would one day up-date their antiquated operating system and the kinks would be worked out, but it doesn't look like that's happening. I'm glad to know a sense of calm has descended upon you. The results will probably be the same, but maybe you'll lose fewer brain cells in the process:) Hugs.

Rachel said...


I'm glad to know that with time and experience, maybe I will be able to handle minor crisises a little better :) I can feel myself responding a bit calmer than say a year or two ago, but it's still hard not to have the initial anger and frustration rise up. We don't have a nurse tonight? Okay... I'll get through this night. But first I'm pretty pissed that we're even in the situation AGAIN :)

I love the necklaces and can't wait to purchase one!!!

Thank you for sharing this story and as always you are an inspiration!!

Alicia said...

Thanks for sharing. I fight way too often, way too hard. I, like Rachel, am finding I am doing it less and less these days but it is hard. It just irks me when people, or companies like Apria, are in my life by no choice of my own and they are charged with caring for my daughter. I just want them to care for her like I do, and I know that is just not they way they work!

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

We must've all gotten ridiculous letters and phone calls this week relating to our medically involved children...

I, too, am cut from the same cloth, but I have learned to just let it ride. I am much nicer to the "idiots" and find my stress has gotten more manageable. There are some days when I let loose on some poor soul, but I am getting better...I think...

Janis said...

When it comes to our dear friends @ Apria I still have letters from a year ago to to deal with. No rush, like you said my kid could care less about his credit score.

Anonymous said...

Good for you sister. Very well done.
Love, Tess

Susan said...

I admit I would be outraged at being sent to collections with no notice, even if it wasn't technically under my name. But I'm glad you were able to get the issue resolved without letting it get to you or taking it out on the poor unfortunate soul whose misfortune it is to be a customer service rep in life. That is indeed a good thing for both of you. And hopefully it's just as effective and this is the last you hear of it.

Melisande said...

Well written post and thoughts that are close to my heart!

Cindy said...

In a few more years you'll just file that letter in the round file right after opening it, done;-)

Anonymous said...

I just got a letter from collections for the first time, ever. It was for a surgery my daughter had five years ago in another state. We have never actually received a bill from the doctor who turned us over to collections. When I called his office, instead of an explanation I got the bill cut in half, just for calling. Unbelievable!

Raleigh, NC