Rubber, Meet Road

December 5, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

“Are you going back to good or evil?”

“Excuse me?” I looked up from my iPhone, trying to find the gate for my flight. I was being shuttled back to the airport after a weekend of great friends and music-making.

“You think they’re gonna get anything done?”  Eddie the driver was in the mood to chat.  He’d asked where I was going, what I did and if I worked with the government.

“They’re acting like a bunch of stupid college kids,” he opined.

He told me that he used to work in insurance. That doctors had become increasingly unwilling to take Medicare patients because their payments were going down. That not enough of the enrollment cards were printed in the first year of Medicare Part D, forcing some of his clients to pay full-price for their prescriptions upfront (if they could), unable to provide proof of their coverage. That the seniors he worked with would call him upset in the middle of the night, saying that they needed this or that medication. That in the second year, the buggy billing system often double-charged his clients for their deductables and copays.

“I wish someone would write about that.”

He’d even tried calling the state’s then-Attorney General to complain about the inadequacy of Medicare funds while there was significant funding available for Medicaid (“which is another name for welfare,” he offered). After learning that the person he’d assumed was a clerk at the AG’s office was actually the assistant AG, he said, “I need you to help these seniors. Do I really have to advise my clients to become destitute to get the medical coverage they need?”

As Eddie recalls it, the assistant AG responded, “That’s just the way it is.”

He was frustrated by that answer, but said he’d felt good for at least airing his grievances. I decided not to suggest that his concerns might have had more impact if he’d contacted his senator or U.S. representative. Instead, I agreed with him that there are simply too many needs and not enough resources to go around.

Eddie also spoke about the government’s interest in cutting the middleman out of the Medicare process.  He mentioned that when an appreciative client referred him to a relative or a neighbor, he was required to wait 48 hours before calling on them, “even if they were just two doors down the street.”

He didn’t renew his insurance broker’s license the following year.

“They did it. They broke me – got me out of it. And now I do this.”

Without realizing it, Eddie reminded me that all of this funding business is complicated stuff. Making – and changing – funding-related policy is no easy feat.  It’s certainly a more complex process than the talking points used to provoke reactions from voters or constituents, or a specific angle that commandeers attention from the media and the public. And the concrete impacts on individuals’ lives – from those who provide the funds to the beneficiaries of those dollars and those whose livelihoods rely on being part of the process – weigh heavy on funding-related decisionmaking like an over-ornamented Christmas tree.

So with every head shake about the ongoing drama in Washington, I’m trying to maintain some gratitude for those who are willing to engage in the hard, complex work of policymaking.  And consider Eddie and his former clients more reasons why it’s worth writing about.

Photo credit: surfkid74/stock.xchng


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