November 6, 2012

A Foretaste of the Future?

Those of you who know me, know the details of where we have lived.  For those of you just tuning in, I am keeping the location details 'under wraps' because this story can happen in any state, including the one in which I am currently residing.

Four years ago, my husband was one of thousands of people laid off at his company.  Enough people were laid off that it triggered a federal law requiring the company to give three month's notice to those who were released.  This particular company decided to give the employees three month's salary in a lump sum, along with severance based on their years of service and told to go home start looking for a job.  My husband, along with every other employee let go, was told to immediately apply for unemployment.  This didn't seem right to us because we had three months pay in our bank account and didn't really need the unemployment money.  Why not wait until we had the need?  The HR person assured us that not filing for unemployment immediately would be perceived by the state government as equivalent to not looking for a job immediately.  Do you see fallacy #1?  Anyway, we dutifully followed HR advice.  This was the same HR department that, at a later time, misfiled the paperwork with claims that those who were laid off had been on the company payroll for the three months.  The state unemployment office could have contacted the HR representative to verify whether the paperwork was truly representing the situation.  This would have saved the state a LOT of money. Instead, they sent out letters to the thousands of people who were laid off notifying them that they falsified claims.  That is hundreds of dollars in stamps to harass people who might still be unemployed.  It resulted in thousands of people filing appeals, requiring someone's time to review the paperwork and additional time to hold the hearing and even more additional time filing the follow-up paperwork detailing the appeal's findings.  More wasted money. However, it DOES provide job security for the folks working for the unemployment office.

Meanwhile, God had graciously provided a job for my husband 1,800 miles away within four months be being released.  He dutifully notified the state unemployment office that we would no longer be needing their money and gave them a change of address notification so that future communication would be sent to the us.  The group of people who handle problems with claims is separate from the the group that pays out claims.  Apparently, paperwork isn't shared.  So when that former group sent out the mailings accusing us of making a fraudulent claim, they sent it to our last known address in our former state rather than taking the considerable time and energy calling the claims department to see if there was an address change (warning:  heavy sarcasm in use).  They also did not allow the post office to forward the notification in the off chance that we had moved because, apparently, all that matters is that the notification is sent--they are not responsible for ensuring that the information is actually received (Note:  This is my sarcastic interpretation of their motives and does not represent the bureaurocracy's actual thought process).  Result:  we never were notified by the state that it had filed a claim of fraudulence against us.  Our notification came three years later, when the state requested that the federal government garnish our federal income tax to re-pay our "debt" and the federal government happily complied, notifying us of the transaction.

When we received this notification from the federal government, my husband called the state unemployment office to see if we could file an appeal.  The person told him where to go to download the paperwork and within a day, he had faxed the completed forms to the fax number he was given.  We waited.  We received no notification that they received the paperwork.  Six months passed.  I suggested that maybe it was time that we contact the state to see what the status of our appeal was.  The contact person my husband reached told him that the appeal was never filed and was closed because of no activity.  At this point, my very wise and calm husband asked to speak to a supervisor (I doubt I would have been as gracious).  During the course of the conversation, in which my husband stated our situation, the supervisor gave him his direct fax line and told him to re-apply for an appeal and fax it directly to him.  Within a day, my husband completed appeal paperwork a second time.  This time, he was notified by mail of our hearing date within a week.  The envelope originally had the address that we haven't inhabited for nearly four years printed on it, but that address was crossed out and our correct address was written on it.  During the appeal's hearing, my husband was told that one of the "findings" was that our appeal was not made in a timely manner.  Fortunately, the person handling the appeal was understanding and noted that we had never been notified by the state.  The end result is that the state ruled that we were not responsible for paying back the entire aid we were given, but that some residual charges apply and they are in the process of determining if those charges exceed what was garnished in the federal taxes.  We are not exactly sure WHY we have to pay for the state's ineptness, but if it means an end to the situation and it doesn't involve a lot of money, we are grateful.

This situation prompts the following question in my mind:  if there is a problem with how the government is operating, whether state, local, or federal, who can you appeal to?  If the supervisor had refused to re-open our case, or if the person handling our appeal was being unreasonable, where could we have gone to appeal?  If the problem involved a privately held company, we could file a claim with the Better Business Bureau, put something on Yelp or Google or Yahoo reviews and the company, if it continued having bad business practices and racking up complaints, would eventually go out of business or be put out of business by the government.  And the situation we were in REEKS of bad business practices that would put a privately held company out of business within a year.

My personal answer is that I would, and did, appeal to God and He answered us by giving us a compassionate supervisor and a favorable person handling our appeals hearing.  And I am sure that there is always the option of suing the government if it ever came to that, but that takes money.  We have money, but what about people who can barely afford the basics?  They wouldn't have the resources to sue the government for negligence or fraud and would just get exploited and overlooked and overcharged.

And then I think of the future healthcare insurance to be administered by the same governments that are administering unemployment insurance.  And it will be directed and funded by the same government in charge of managing our Social Security benefits.  So as evil and as hard-hearted and profit-driven as insurance companies are, I have NO confidence that the future government bureaucrats that will be in charge of health insurance decisions will be any better.

The truth is that government officials who tell you that the government will eliminate health care problems are overselling their capabilities, just as PPOs and HMOs in the 1980's oversold their capabilities.  The government welfare system that was supposed to eliminate poverty still has people fall through the cracks AND, simultaneously, allows people to scam the system.  Both private and public institutions are run by seriously flawed people and seriously compassionate people.   But private organizations are more directly accountable to their customers than the government is.  And they have the government to watch them to make sure they are following fair business rules.  But who will watch the watchmen?

1 comment:

Jane Hoppe said...

Any computer-problem-run-around pales compared with your story. I give you and your husband credit for even keeping all the details straight. I am blessed by your sharing what you prayed for and how God answered. And I'm scared by your last question: Who will watch the watchmen? More prayer needed on that one.