Friday, January 30, 2009

What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate...

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

And quite probably it shouldn't have been a surprise. Surely, far ruder has been going on out there, even from employers who used to treat their employees decently. That relative decency was a big reason why this particular employer had only a 100% annual employee turnover rate, as compared to the 300% industry average.

Well! Things do change. Businesses will do what they feel they must to survive in whatever economy they operate in. I know. Taught and trained and Fancy Degreed and highly experienced I am, plus educated in the School of Hard Knocks, too; not just as an employee, not just as a professional analyst, but as a small business owner with a little payroll roster of my own.

Watch your back, folks. Same as it ever was: it isn't just what your employer does, but how they do it, that'll leave marks on your back.

When Walter's Worker's Comp claim was terminated, and then the disability claim denied (because it was a Worker's Comp claim!), we weren't sure what would happen next. Or even what his status was with his employer. --Wait and see-- we told ourselves, as we slowly but surely gather ammunition, documenting, researching.

We did know they'd be changing several insurance companies effective January 1, 2009. Cigna would replace the old health insurance company (Aetna). We'd been paying the employee portion of the health insurance premium for Aetna, so we needed to know who to send the payments to now, and how much to send.

No new instructions or letters arrived in the mail. We had another important question too. So a few days ago, Monday the 26th I think it was, we called the Benefits office at Walter's employer.

--Hi! We were wondering - Even if the Worker's Comp department says Walter can work when he can't, he's still being treated for the injury, and Worker's Comp is still supposed to pay for the treatment. We just can't afford to keep paying for the medical treatment ourselves.
--You'll have to take that up with the Worker's Comp department, we have no involvement in that.
--Okay. One other question: Who do we send the health insurance premiums to now?
--Didn't you get the COBRA package yet?
--Uh, no. Why would it be COBRA? Has Walter been terminated?
--I think it was as of...December 28? Pretty sure. Yes, December 28.
--Okay. [thinking...] Does that mean we have to pay the entire premium now?
--How much is it?
--Well, it depends on which coverage you choose...You didn't get the COBRA package yet? I'm so sorry, I'll call Portland and make sure they get it out right away.

I hung up. Walter and I looked at each other. Absorbed this news. Processed it...

That's not a very nice way to find out you're not employed any more.

Walter was fired because he was badly injured at the workplace. They applied Family Leave Act time at the beginning, while he was supposed to be on Worker's Comp, so his leave ran out. After months of diagnosis and treatment of his injury and the subsequent disabling condition it caused, the employer - or maybe just this one jerk in the Worker's Comp department - decided to get out from under the claim. He cut off the Worker's Comp benefits and instructed Walter to file it as a disability claim.

Why? Because that way, Aetna would have to pay Walter's wage and medical reimbursements, not the employer.

Since it really WAS Worker's Comp, that little game is called insurance fraud.

Hmmm...Better dummy up an alibi, then. If you're trying to brown-nose your boss with this sort of scheme, then triggering criminal charges just won't do. Time to find a doctor to say there's nothing wrong with Walter, to pretend he can drive safely as a commercial driver. In a bad economy it's pretty easy to find someone who'll say what you want them to say, especially if you're sending that Occupational Medicine doctor beau coup bucks in business each year.

And it's perfectly legal - by the letter of the law - to accept the diagnosis of one far less qualified doctor over several highly qualified docs taking care of various aspects of Walter's treatment. Yes indeed! The employer gets to pick and choose.

Of course, a judge must be sensible when choosing which doctor(s) to believe, but hey. Very few employees actually get their case in front of a judge. It's a lot harder to sue -especially, to sue successfully - than you might think. In most states, it's also the only recourse available to the employee if their employer plays fast and loose with the labor laws.

And here we sit, inundated with news of employees driving business into the red with all their PC demands and such.

A couple hours after this phone call the mail came, presenting us with the COBRA package in question. How about that.

The new premium? $355.04 per month.

This was a surprise to Mr. Budget.

Now: Walter must sign up for COBRA and pay a month's premium, plus $70 for the few days Aetna covered between his firing and 12/31/08. Once the employer gets that - postmarked no later than 2/2/09 - Walter will have health insurance, retroactive to his last employed day.

Until then, technically, he has no health insurance coverage.

Which he didn't know at the time he went to the Physical Medicine doctor he's been seeing. No wonder his diagnostic tests and meds weren't approved. Surprise solved.

--Don't have another heart attack yet,-- I told him. --I mean, you WOULD be covered eventually, but the paperwork could be hell and a half.--

On Wednesday my Social Security Disability check was deposited. That was supposed to go toward food and meds and the phone bill and such, but also - finally - for the small but essential funds to put voice recognition software on my computer. Walter's been exploring programs in anticipation of that blessed event.

Ah well...

Today, Friday, the COBRA application and check is ready. We'll send it Return Receipt Requested so we'll have proof of mailing, and proof of delivery, for under $3. There's no need to spend more to overnight it; it won't affect the coverage timing at all.

But wait!

That only takes care of the health insurance. I never did hear how to pay for the disability insurance. I mean, we've been paying that premium for quite a while, and maybe he needs it in place now, right? in case something else awful happens to him?

So we called the Benefits office again today. Told them we're sending in their COBRA application. Asked where to send the premiums for the disability insurance.

--Uh, no no, you can't take that with you once you're terminated. [Well...not a surprise. But it was worth a try.]
--Okay. Oh! By the way - Could we have a letter or something showing that Walter was terminated, and the date?
--No, oh no, we don't send out any letters like that! Oh no! (sounding a bit shocked and indignant at such a question).
--Uh...okay. Um...How do we show proof to the agencies and things we'll be dealing with?
--Oh, they can fax me a Verification of Employment letter. Here's my fax number...

The end. We hung up.

Walter and I did another Look At Each Other thing.

I do realize the workplace is not what it was back in my day. And I promise you, some truly egregious infractions were matter-of-course, common events back then. None of this is too much for either of us to take. Not nearly, not even close.

However! To not tell someone they're fired - letting them find out *accidentally* weeks later, by way of getting a COBRA package in the mail - and then to refuse to send them a letter for their records after they find out that way -

Am I being a little old fashioned here? Or unrealistic, expecting less unkindness than I should?

Or does all that seem as wrong to others as it does to me?

Watch your back out there, folks. The fewer nasty surprises you get, the more you stay in control of your own destiny.


Pretty Lady said...

Sue them. Sue the HELL out of them. Sue them into the ground. F*cking bastards.

The world is changing, and I'm working and praying and thinking and connecting to help make the change a change for the better, but it's not happening fast enough.

We're watching our back regarding our landlord. He's been promising a washer/dryer and a new stove for years now; a washer/dryer actually arrived and was left in the empty downstairs apartment last week. Then the landlord arrived unannounced while I was working on a client (and had specifically told him I was unavailable at that time--he thought he'd just ENTER MY APARTMENT WHILE I WASN'T THERE) and threw a temper tantrum when I wouldn't let him in, as is not only my right, but my legal obligation not to do so.

Now we more than suspect he's giving the washer/dryer to our downstairs neighbors instead, out of spite. With my due date less than a month away, this is really annoying. I've stopped communicating with him by phone, and started putting it all in writing, as I should have been doing all along.

But not nearly as annoying as Walter's !@(*&@*(#$&!^ employer. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

Pretty Lady said...

Oh, BTW, I've been looking into getting some assistance with things like heating, grocery and medical bills, since I'm physically unable to work now, and the industries Joe works in are laying people off left and right, let alone hiring anybody. Neither of us is eligible for any assistance, however, because when you're SELF-employed, you don't have any W2 stubs or other proof of 'unemployment,' now, do you?

Anonymous said...

Rotten stinking sons of bitches. I agree with Pretty Lady, K - sue their backsides off. apart from any legal matters, what they're doing is evil, plain and simple. No kindness, no compassion, just heartless bureaucracy. Bastards.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

I agree. I think you need to talk to a good lawyer. And let him call and threaten to take them to court. A strong, nasty lawyer. A smart one who will put the fear of God into their heartless souls.

Shoot. You need somebody like Erin Brockovich, or John Grisham! Too bad Jerry Spence lives in Idaho....

Jan said...

k..there just has to be something you can do about this.

That's about the lowest thing I've heard of in a long time.

Can't anyone, or anything, be trusted anymore?

It's disgusting.

Jean said...

Holy crap (I seem to say that a lot lately)... there is no way all that can be right or legal. Even in Florida!

Yeah, another vote for 'lawyer'.


Kat said...

omg--- that is so freakin' wrong! Add me to the list of "get a lawyer" folks....! Geez... Praying for y'all....

Desert Cat said...

Wearing you down...I knew they'd try.

They don't know who they're dealing with though.

Really quite outrageous, and it ticks me off to no end that virtually any claim made to insurance of any type almost needs to be accompanied by the hiring of a lawyer to ensure that promised benefits are forthcoming.

k said...

You guys are right. Time to slam them into the ground. If we can. If we can - if anyone can - we will.

Our *package* is almost complete. Another day or two should see it off to the Missouri lawyer we hope will take the case. If he declines, then at least from there on out it'll be much easier to find another one. Getting all the information together is the hard part.

Thank you all for your votes of confidence. And your outrage too. Frankly, I think we'll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing.

But you know where else you're right? That doesn't make it okay. What did our parents used to tell us: --If everyone else jumps off a cliff, does that mean you should too?

I keep thinking about all those people in the last few years whose pensions were looted by the companies they'd worked for, and paid into, for the decades of loyalty it takes to become eligible. When the courts ruled the companies didn't have to honor their pension contracts, it was absolutely sickening.

Nobody put their foot down and forced those companies to do what they're supposed to do. To do what they promised when they made those pension agreements in the first place.

They should do the right thing without being forced. But when they refuse? Or when they actively plot to do wrong?

It's time.

SeaPhoenix said...

If all else fails, send them a package of fire ants marked "Happy Valentine's Day". They'll think it's chocolate and tear that sucker open. Good luck, K. Hope I gave you a chuckle. Wish I was down your way, it's cold and nasty here, about 11F and snowing right now with wind chills below zero. Brr.