Saturday, December 20, 2008

Humor. It's all relative.

One of the fun aspects of surfing the health-care industry is switching to a new insurer when the old work-based health insurance runs out. That's especially true when the new individual health plan includes a drug "benefit" that uses the word as loosely as my new provider, Group Health Cooperative, does.

I can't say I was surprised at the expense today when, credit card in hand, I ventured out onto the snowy roads to pick up my monthly round of chemotherapy. I had researched all this a month ago before I switched insurers. Even laid it out in a spreadsheet to suss the damage. And reconfirmed it on the phone earlier this week. But still, when they say the words, the copayment of $865 kinda bites. Catches you up short.

At the Group Health pharmacy in Burien it took three stops at three adjacent windows to complete the transaction. At Window 1, I gave the grim old clerk my ID number and she tapped her keyboard. "OK," she said, "I see this is a new order. Did they tell you about the copyament on this?" She had a sick, worried look on her face.

"Yes," I said. "They said it would be 20 bucks."

To me this is hilarious, just to watch the lady's face contort as she prepares to break the news about the actual price.

"Well, no," she said, wincing. "I'm afraid it's a bit more. It's going to be, um, eight hundred sixty-four dollars and ninety cents."

Yeah, I know, I said, I'm just kidding around. Haha. But she wasn't amused. She glared at me and told me to sit down and wait for my name to be called, since the pharmacist would want to discuss my prescription with me.

Ten minutes later someone called me to the next window and the young woman, all business, asked if my doctor had explained to me the procedure for taking the chemo. (It's a ballet of timing, waiting a certain period after eating, popping some nausea drugs at another certain time, downing the chemo and then hoping you can get to sleep before ralphing. So far, most months, I've been pretty lucky on that count.)

Oh sure, I said, I've been taking this for a year and a half (actually longer). No sweat.

The druggist looked annoyed, and groused a bit about preparing all the explanatory material for nothing. To give her something to do, I offered that although I was experienced with the chemo it was my first time paying this much for it, so I could maybe use a little counseling on that score. Always thinking of others, that's me.

"I'm sorry, honey, I wish I could help," she said. She directed me to Window 3, next door, to pay my bill.

When yet another woman appeared to ring me up she did an actual double-take at the invoice printout. "Wow, I can go home early today," she said brightly. "I think I've met my sales quota for the day."

Now this, to me, is not funny. More like rubbing it in. Some people have no sense of humor.

Gamely, I asked her how my total compared with other pharmacy sales. She did a little whistle through her teeth. Sometimes at the end of the year people on Medicare will exhaust their benefits and have to pay as much as $200 or $250 for their medication, she said.

My chemo, I was given to understand, was a record in her experience.

So, Merry Christmas, Group Health Pharmacy. And bah, humbug, with an extra lump of coal, to your stupid copayments.


Michelle said...


mich said...

Jesus, Mark. That you can hold onto any humor at all through this is beyond my understanding. You're my hero.

Jason Bellamy said...

Man, fuck. The $20 thing is hilarious. The rest makes me want to ralph.

Rita said...

Nothing but the best for you, Mark!
Think Obama could help?

I can hardly believe that this is true and like're my hero. Kinda makes me want to work on my sense of humor.

Ronelle said...

I have to echo the comments -I think you were hilarious...too bad the stoic staff could not appreciate it! I think your sense of humor alone was worth a $200 discount!

Seriously, what can be done to help you and others in the same situation? Educate me about who to write to and what needs to happen.

I am so sorry that our health system has let you down this way Mark. But...thank God you have what you need. Please stay focused on staying healthy!

What are the plans for the Matassa division of the Maher clan for the holidays?

kateco said...