Empire Blue Cross called me yesterday.

Paul and I have a joint disaster hospitalization policy with Empire. It pays if one of us gets hit by the bus, and the ambulance carts us to any hospital that’s not the VA.

Actually, just last year, Paul broke ribs in an accident that did not involve a bus. He saved Empire a lot of money by insisting that the ambulance take him to the VA, instead of three closer hospitals that were not the VA.

In return, Empire refused to pay for the ambulance ride.

But I digress.

Empire called me yesterday. I wasn’t home. Paul answered the phone, and a young woman named Michelle asked to speak to me. It was about my policy; she couldn’t speak with him.

“Her policy is also my policy,” he said. “You can speak with me.”

“Sir,” she said, “even though it’s also your policy, I can’t speak with you.”

“But I’m the one who’s been corresponding with Empire about the policy,” he said.

“Sir,” she said, “I can’t speak with you.”


Paul turns 65 in July, and will be eligible for Medicare. We received a bill a few weeks ago from Empire, for three months including July. He will not be on the policy in July, so he called Empire.

He spoke with a young woman named Melissa.

Consider this equation: two people share one insurance policy that covers them equally. One of them leaves it. The person retaining the policy will pay:

A) Half the two-person premium.

B) Significantly more than half the two-person premium.

Paul guessed A. EEEEH (Angry buzzer sound).

Melissa informed him that, with his name off the policy, B was correct. I would pay significantly more.

This was, Melissa said, because Paul’s name was listed first.

“You mean, if we’d put my wife’s name first on the policy, she would only pay half when I left it?”

BING (Happy bell sound).

Paul could not grasp the logic in this. After much talk, he still could not do the math. So Melissa told him she would consult her supervisor and email further instructions.

Melissa sent us an email. The spelling and grammar were creative. The good news: I would only pay half our current joint premium because I was Grandfathered.

The bad news: “If your wife would like to remain on the grandfathered plan, she would need to submit a completed application and a letter requesting that she stayed (sic) on grandfathered plan. You would also need to submit a cancel letter for your current contract.”

She told him to tear up the bill we had received and wait for one based on three months’ premium for me, and two for him.

The bill came for the adjusted amount, and I paid it.


I filled out my application, wrote a cover letter that both canceled the current policy and requested that I stay on our Grandfathered plan, and mailed it all off to the snail address Melissa gave me in her email. I cc’d her on the cover letter and emailed the cc to her so she could follow what was going on.

Melissa emailed back. She wrote, in her unique argot, that I couldn’t process my application through her. Not only that: all she’d gotten was a letter. There was no application with it.

I wrote back that I hadn’t processed my application through her. I’d sent her a cc of my cover letter For her information. The application and original letter had gone to Empire’s snail address.

She wrote back: I still couldn’t process an application through her. And the application was incomplete anyway, because there was only a letter. The tone of the email added, You idiot.

I sighed and wrote back that I had sent the application and ORIGINAL letter to the address she’d given me. I had sent her a CC as a COURTESY, JUST…TO…KEEP…YOU…IN…THE…LOOP.



I called Michelle at Empire back yesterday afternoon.

I navigated the Empire phone mail system: Clicked “1,” clicked “3,” clicked in my insurance number. Held. Clicked. Held. It hung up on me.

Again: click, click, click, hold, click, hold. It hung up.

Again: click, click, click, hold, click, hold…Et voila–a young man answered.

“Before we start,” I said, “please take down my number so you can call me back if we get disconnected. I only have one life; I don’t want to spend it going through your phone mail system again.”

The young man took down my number. He repeated it. He told me to hold while he looked over my application.

He returned. “Your application is incomplete. Your husband has to write a letter that would cancel the original policy.”

“I already wrote one,” I said.

“Ma’am, no. Your husband has to write it.”

“Your Michelle couldn’t tell my husband this when she talked to him this morning?”

“No, Ma’am. You were the one requesting a new policy–”

“Yes, but he already opted out. We’ve already paid a premium that reflects his opting out, based on a bill sent by your company, after tearing up the old bill, as instructed by your cohort, who doesn’t know how to spell or what a cc is–”

Okay, I didn’t say anything about spelling or a cc. What if the young man himself couldn’t spell or decipher the mysterious cc concept? I didn’t want to offend him; I do have to worry about that bus.

“We need a letter from your husband, Ma’am.”

I handed the phone to Paul. Who stated that the change had already been made; he didn’t have to write another damned letter–

The young man hung up.

He did not call back.


Paul has a theory about customer phone representatives: They are young people who expect to snag a career when they graduate from college. When that doesn’t happen, they figure that–for maybe a year, tops–they’ll work the phones for Empire.

The economy fizzles. They’ve been at Empire for two, three years now. Still on the phones. No advancement, lousy pay. Treated like the peons they’ve become. They have no stake in Empire, no cause for loyalty.

When they take your call, they don’t give a s**t.

I suggested he call Empire and ask to speak with somebody over 40. But then, odds are, the young person who answers will hand him over to the janitor.

Which might be an improvement.

For now, I am very, very careful when I cross the street.