The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

December 8, 2013

Jo Ellis: Signing up for drug plan requires the patience of Job

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Payback is ... well ... you know what it is.

A few days ago, my husband, with an innocent expression on his face, handed me a letter with the admonition that I needed to take care of it, since the company in question would deal with no one except the applicant except in special circumstances.

The company in question was an insurance company, which has a contract with Medicare for handling prescription drug plans.

You have to understand three things: First, my husband, thanks to his responsible and dutiful nature, normally takes care of all the dull business matters for our family; second, my standing on the patience and irritability scale is close to rock bottom; and third, I talk back to those ubiquitous phone menus and recorded messages. “They” always say calls are recorded “for quality control.” I seriously doubt “they” ever play them back; otherwise there would be a lot of changes in company policy after “they” listen to a few of the comments.

I had decided, after weighing the pros and cons, that I should change the particular plan in which I had been enrolled. The premium had increased with no obvious explanations. Since I have no serious problem requiring expensive prescriptions and I have an aversion to pill-taking anyway, I thought a lower-cost plan would suit me just as well. Still, there were questions I wanted to ask.

I plunged into the dark abyss and dialed the number. “Please continue to hold for an enrollment specialist,” I was told. This was about 3 p.m. First, I got Giovanni, who sounded more like Kim Jong Il than Silvio Berlusconi. The next pass-off, about 30 minutes later, was to Cynthia. She told me she was in Kansas City, and at least she was pleasant to talk with. I got a small bit of information from her but was told I needed to be transferred to still another “enrollment specialist.”

These “specialists” don’t seem to know much about their service because, invariably, they need to pass you off to another “specialist.” All this time, of course, I was bombarded with music and encouraging comments. They “look forward” to speaking with me. My call was “important” to them. With dulcet tones that would melt metal in their mouth, they are “sorry for your wait.” If they are so sorry, why don’t they hire more people and educate them in the information they are supposed to provide?

At least these never-ending “apologies” and plugs for their other programs ensure that you are still connected. There were times when they disappeared entirely for several minutes — no music, no background sound. Are they sitting back laughing at how long we fools will hold on with no encouraging entreaty to “Please continue to hold for an enrollment specialist”?

Determined to win the battle, I held on. I finally wised up and put the call on speaker phone. I reasoned that by placing the phone a little out of reach, it would not only free my hands for other tasks, but it would give me a few seconds to debate whether I wanted to grab it and smash it to the floor.

About 90 minutes into the call, I heard from Will, who advised he would need to transfer me to a “Missouri agent” who could answer my questions and enroll me in the plan. I thought Cynthia was transferring me to a “Missouri agent.” Apparently not. Apologies grew more intense: “We are experiencing very heavy call volumes.” They tried to give me a guilt trip because of the approaching deadline to enroll. Hey, it was still four days to the deadline.

At roughly two hours into the call, I was passed on to Barry, who actually did answer my questions and said he could enroll me in my preferred plan. BUT I first had to answer questions put to me by an automated PHIL. Now PHIL was not a real person but another automated recording. And horror of horrors, after Barry and before PHIL came on, my worst fear came true: The phone went dead! Bad words here!

Fortunately, Barry had given me a number to call in case I was disconnected. Eventually I answered PHIL’s idiotic robotic questions and was assured I was enrolled in my preferred plan. I think. Should a company CEO see this column, my insurance may be canceled altogether.

The entire process took two hours and 36 minutes. I am not kidding. I was a wreck and my husband was smiling knowingly when I finished. For anyone subjected to this kind of mental horror, I have some advice: Pack a lunch, have a good book on hand or play a game of solitaire on the computer.

If you’re handy with knitting needles, knit a sweater. You will have plenty of time.

ADDRESS CORRESPONDENCE to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email

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