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‘You’re going to get in a lot of trouble!’

The phone rings at 7 in the morning. The phone rings at midnight. If we don’t answer and let the machine screen the calls, the patients leave interminable messages, explaining that the insurance company already paid, that the second test wasn’t really necessary. It’s amazing how much detail about their medical histories these people will leave on the answering machine of a total stranger.

If we’re at home, and it’s within normal business hours, we answer.

“Is this the (name) Medical Center?” they ask.

(I’m sure the medical center has some fine, hard-working staff. I decline to name the outfit in part because no surviving Nevada employer needs any more trouble today, what with Steven Horsford and the other armed robbers of the Nevada Legislature still at large.)

“Ma’am, you have a bill from the medical center there in front of you?”


“The phone number on the bill, can you see that’s a 10-digit number?”


“If the area code is different from 702, you’re going to have a dial a ‘one’ and then the entire 10 digits,” we explain. “It just happens that here in the Southern Nevada area code, our home phone has the same last seven digits as your health center’s office in Coral Springs, Florida.”

It seems that last fall the outfit decided to centralize their billing operations in Florida. We’ve been attempting to conduct our polite little seminar in “area codes” ever since.

I talked to the outfit’s chief of billing about the problem four months ago. She now says that because I stopped calling, she figured the problem had gone away. It hadn’t.

Monday, the brunette told me that even on days when she doesn’t have to work, she can’t stand to be in the house more than four hours straight.

“The medical center calls?”


So I started again. Tuesday, I called the office in Florida. (Other than the area code, I never have to look up the number. It’s my number.)

“I’d like to talk to the person who’s in charge of sending out your bills,” I said.

They transferred me to Roberta. Within five seconds, I was pretty sure Roberta was not the person I needed.

I told Roberta that. She insisted she could help me. I told her I was not a patient and started to explain about the day-and-night phone calls.

“What’s you account number?” Roberta asked.

“I don’t have an account number. I’m not a patient,” I said.

“What company are you with?”

“I work for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but that’s not the point here.”

“And you’re a patient here?”

“Listen, Roberta, I’m the guy who’s going to start telling your customers that because of the Health Affordability Reform Act, enacted by the U.S. Senate last week, they don’t have to pay your bills any more; they can just throw them away, because Barack Obama is going to pay them. Now are you going to let me talk to someone in charge?”

Roberta hung up on me.

I tried the local offices, here in Las Vegas. I always start out asking for a medical doctor or corporate officer. Mandy, Mindy or Bimbolina always insists she can handle my problem.

Between repeated interruptions of the “What’s your account number?” variety, I tried to explain the problem — again. When I told one of the micro-boppers that if I didn’t get some satisfaction I was going to start telling their customers about the Health Affordability Reform Act, she shouted “You’d better not do that or you’re going to get in a lot of trouble!” … and hung up on me.

Finally I reached an office manager named Gabrielle, the first person I’d reached all day who appeared to be smarter than my cat. (And Skeezix is the kind of cat who wants to look out the front door to make sure it’s raining there, too.) She seemed to immediately grasp the impact of having multitudes of their patients told about the recently enacted (and thoroughly imaginary, you understand) Health Affordability Reform Act. She managed to have an actual corporate officer call me back within the hour. He said he’d try to add a line to their bills, pointing out the need to dial the area code.

Later in the day, I got a call from the person who really is “responsible for sending out their bills” in Florida. Guess what? It wasn’t “Roberta”!

She said she’d try again to make some changes in their bill forms. She even offered to send me “before” and “after” bills to show their efforts, to my Review-Journal address.

I thanked her, but pointed out how many employees, at so many different locations, had declined to put my calls through to someone smarter than the average potted plant even when asked, instead trying over and over and over to determine my account number before finally hanging up the phone.

“You have to understand, Vin,” she said. “These are $11-an-hour employees. You can’t expect them to know how to deal with something that’s outside their experience.”

I started working while in high school, at $1.60 an hour. I was thrilled, in my youthful ignorance, when the minimum wage went up to $1.75, thinking that meant “a raise for everyone.” I didn’t realize some jobs just weren’t worth $1.75, or $2.35, that some jobs that once gave kids a first step on the employment ladder — think “filling station attendant” — would go the way of the dinosaur.

But even when I earned $1.60 an hour, I could have answered a telephone, politely determined the nature of the problem, and passed along the call to someone who could deal with it.

Eleven dollars an hour adds up to almost $23,000 a year. And you wouldn’t want to see Roberta take a spelling test, believe me. Yet we wonder why U.S. firms are outsourcing so many services to India? In India, there are college graduates, bright, cheerful, literate in several languages and the jargon of computer repair, who would be tickled pink to make $23,000 per year.

Yet in America, that kind of money now hires — and empowers — arrogant twits who can’t even figure out when it’s time to pass the call up the line as requested to someone who, when asked her age, doesn’t have to resort to tapping it out with a forepaw.

Vin Suprynowicz is the Review-Journal’s assistant editorial page editor. See www.vinsuprynowicz.com/.

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