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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Privacy Farce

A few weeks ago, I needed to deal with a doctor's bill which we weren't sure whether we had paid or not. Rich had had an appointment and went without his wallet, so he couldn't pay the co-pay, but he said something about calling in to pay it, and I didn't know if he'd ever gotten around to it. So, I checked our online statements and saw that something had gone out to that medical group, but I wasn't sure if it was for this visit or a different one. The lady wouldn't tell me about the billing, even though I was trying to pay the bill and not asking why he had gone to the doctor (which I already knew anyway), unless Rich got on the phone and said it was alright for me to get this confidential information about a $15 co-pay. Rich had just walked in the room at this point, so I said here you go and handed the phone to him. He said it was okay to talk about his bills or anything else with me and handed the phone back so he could get back to what he was doing. The lady then proceeded to check the account and tell me where the other co-pay had been applied and that we did indeed need to pay this one, which I did. The stupidity of this, of course, is that I could have handed the phone to any man at all, or made my voice sound deeper, and that would evidently be enough of a confirmation that it was okay for me to deal with this private information. Evidently as long as we all play the stupid little game, then our privacy is secured.

It was the same way when we were doing our taxes a year and a half ago. We knew that we had paid a ton into medical bills because of the c-section for Jerome and all his deductibles and whatnot. So, Rich went online to our insurance company's website to see what had been our responsibility over the year and found nothing about me. When he called them, the insurance people were confused until they remembered that it was because I was over 12. The lady apparently huffed something about HIPA (is that the right acronym?) and made it clear she thought it was a bureaucratic idiocy also. The lady said it was kind of odd that the age was 12 rather than, say 18, and Rich replied that it was probably because that was the age that girls were starting to be able to get pregnant. She made the connection, and was of the same opinion as Rich was over that one. This insurance policy, mind you, is in Rich's name, through his work, and we are married. But, he was not supposed to be allowed to see what procedures I'd had done, how much money I had owed, etc. So, again, the high security that had to be fulfilled was that Rich went online, started a separate account that was tied to my name so he could look up the information so we could get our taxes done. He e-mailed me the account and password as well as the one for him.

Our children's godparents ran into this when their (then) 12 year old son had his tonsils and adenoids out. The bill came to their son's name. He came home earlier than they did, got the mail, saw stuff from the hospital that didn't really make sense to him and threw it in the garbage. Repeatedly. Then, they started getting collections calls. Arthur said something to the effect of we didn't see any bills, and asked his son, who said that yeah he'd gotten some weird paperwork from the hospital and thrown it away. So, he explained that to the collections people and tried to get it sorted out. They wouldn't discuss it with him because it was in his son's name, and Arthur had no right to know what his son had had done. I believe Arthur told him that they then had no right to collect the money from him and to try to get it from his 12 year old. I don't think it took too long for them to decide he had a right to access his son's records.

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