Ron Judd

'Would you mind a brief day-and-a-half hold?'

Telephone combat with World's Best Health Care system
March 30, 2022 at 5:40 a.m.

Executive Editor

A close-to-actual conversation with Customer Service at a large regional health insurance conglomerate, March 28, 2022, condensed from the original, 90-minute transcript:

Them, in clearly digital voice: “Hello! Thanks for calling Premeragence Blue Shaft Health Care! We’re here to help. Please listen carefully to the following options, as our menu system has changed.”

Us: “Representative.”

Them: “While you’re waiting: Did you know Blue Shaft also offers the best deals on swimming pools, home chair lifts and barbecue utensils? Want to hear more? If yes, say, ‘Afghanistan Banana Stand.’ If no, on your numeric keypad, press the ancient Sumerian fertility symbol.”

Us: “Representative!”

Them: “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that. Would you like to start over?”

Us (throwing objects across room): “REPRESENTATIVE!” 

Them: “I see. You’d like to speak to a representative. You are currently number 512 on the waiting list. Would you like us to call you back in one to eight weeks at the least opportune time possible? Your place in line will remain unchanged.”

Us: “Kill me. Just kill me now. Seriously, give me a Makita power drill and watch as I slowly bore holes through my skull.”

Them: “Did you say wholes, as in ‘whole health’? Blue Shaft is a proud corporate partner of Insidious Busywork Corporate Wellness Services, a division of the United Consumer Frackers of America. Would you like to hear about some of their programs? If yes, breathe heavily into the phone. If no, enter a Rubik’s Cube emoji.”

Us: “For the love of God …” 

Them (possible real person, in a gravelly male voice): “Hello, my name is Marcia. Thanks for calling Blue Shaft Health Care. How can I help you live better today?”

Us: “Well, you could take $14 million off the top of your CEO’s salary and spread it around to eliminate everyone’s insurance deductible, but that’s clearly not on your answer sheet. But seriously, are you sitting down for this?”

Them: “I’m not sure what you mean, sir.”

Us: “Sure you do. But it’s fun to pretend. I called to ask you about this Explanation of Benefit for some ‘durable medical equipment’ I purchased three months ago from a Certified In-Network Blue Shaft provider, selected by you folks from the Free Market For Everything Except Health Care Annual Catalog.”

Them: “How may I help you with that?”

Us: “Well, ‘Marcia,’ when I bought it, you told me there was only a single place in the universe that could sell it to me ‘in-network,’ and not being an ‘out-of-network’ kind of guy, I said ‘OK,’ paid my anointed amount of $27.50, and now three months later, I have this bill in my hand for $2,700. By the way: Your name isn't Marcia.”

Them: “Yes it is.” 

Us: “No it isn’t.”

Them: “What is your question, sir?”

Us: “How in the name of all that is holy does it cost $2,700?”

Them: “May I put you on a brief hold for a day and a half while I inquire about this?”

Us: “Do I have a choice?”

Them: “Well, you can start over.”

(Pause, day and a half later; clocks have changed again in the interim, making it a day and a half plus an hour, but who’s counting.)

Us: “OK, so what’s the verdict?” 

Them: “The cost of the item is $2,700.”

Us: “Seriously? It’s a box of gauze.”

Them: “Seriously. By the way, the good news is that it counts against your deductible.” 

Us: “Which is how much?” 

Them: “Well, if you have to ask ...”

Us: “Thank the gods for that, ‘Marcia.’ But are you really telling me this box of gauze cost $2,700?”

Them: “That is the Agreed-Upon Adjusted Claim Amount.”

Us: “So let me recap: You got together with this group of scoundrels from a ‘Durable Medical Goods’ vendor in Salt Lake City — or maybe a group of crooks in Dubai, or Moscow, using a Salt Lake City P.O. Box. They wrote up a gauze contract on the lid of a vodka crate, and agreed to a per-unit price of about a hundred bucks below the total annual deductible for hapless patient dupes such as myself, with kickbacks and palm-greasing all around, with zero regard to the actual value of the item.”

Them: “Basically, yes.”

Us: “And there’s not a damn thing I can do about that, is there?”

Them: “No sir. If you would like to suggest changes to your coverage plan, you might bring it up with your employer’s human resources department.” 

Us: “Sorry, they are in the south of France at the moment, spending my 401(k). By the way, you’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” 

Them: “No sir. I completely, totally and fully understand your frustration. Would you like to speak to our billing department?”

Us: “Is your billing department located in your building?”

Them: “No sir. They’re overseas. Why do you ask?”

Us: “Well, if they were, I was thinking about offering someone over there $2,700 to go in there and start flipping over desks, screaming as they do it, ‘I’ve got your $13,000 deductible right here!’”

Them: “I’d be happy to transfer you.” 

Us: “No. No. No. Don't even think ... ” 

Them: (Long, loud tone. Pause. Soft static. Soothing female computer voice.) 

“If you’d like to discuss mental health options, please press four.”

Ron Judd’s column appears on Wednesdays. Email:; Twitter: @roncjudd.

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