Let me tell you a story, an everyman's story. I'll pick my words for brevity and accuracy, since undoubtedly this tale is common enough that you've heard it already in some form or another. No matter how end is reached, whatever route my life follows, the result for nearly every story is the same, collection agencies and health care providers are this century's and last's paramount evil. The are very few supervillians remaining. Those that have survived decades of penicillin, whistleblower press, and the National Endowment of the Arts have had to be sneaky, vigilant, and disguise themselves as a necessary evil.
In the summer of last year (July 2002) I finally paid off three and a half years of credit card debt. While in the nest I'd been taught of good spending and credit behavior from my mother, father, and pervasive extended family influence. However, through college and my time living in Atlanta with Matt, I'd still let things slip out of control. It took me over two years of not-spending, paying as much as I could, and one final hefty swoop by grandparentals helps to finally finish paying them off.
One month later, my first kidney stone sent me screaming to the hospital in the middle of the still-dark morning without insurance, racking up another $1500 in medical bills. What I got for my pain and money was a urine strainer and an order to make a follow-up appointment with a specialist. I didn't even get to catch or see the costly little rock. After feeling overwhelming stupid and sore from financial rape, I decided to bypass the extra $300+ I'd be spending on the specialist to tell me, "Yup, dat dere was a rock youse had in yer pisser."
Refusing to put this newly acquired debt back onto my credit cards, I arranged by phone with each of the three billing parties (hospital, emergency group, and radiology group) to pay a little bit every month ($25). Everyone person I spoke to agreed to the arrangement, and I started my slow, winding road back to being mostly-debt-free (school loans don't count).
I paid these bills each month, timely, and in the amount to which I'd agreed, every time I received a new bill, even if I sometimes got three statements every two months. I will spare you the rest of the details (unless you want them to lend more legitimacy to my tale).
Two of the three bills are sent to collection agencies, while I am paying on them, despite my having expressly arranged with the correct billing people, and their acceptance of this arrangement. No one, not the billing company, not the collection agency, informs me that these bills that I am still paying on at the original company are delinquent.
I don't even find out that these bills are with two separate collection agencies until six months later (February) when I receive some nasty, harassment-style phone calls from one collection agency. I try to get it recalled by the original radiology company, but I get some feeble excuse that it's no longer in the computer system after it's sent to a collection agency. To rub in a handful of salt, the collection agency improperly typed my address when I updated it with them on the phone and have been beleaguering me with more phone calls because they haven't received my payment.
Two months later (today), curious as to why the second of my bills has stopped coming, I call the hospital. It was sent to a collection agency back in October even though they'd been receiving payments up through the new year. This lady at least is going to try to recall it from the agency, especially since I'd been paying the whole time and the collection agency has yet to contact me via phone or mail to either of my addresses since October, six months ago!
The only positive note in this entire piece is that the third bill was never turned over to a collector and that the lady at the hospital (trying to recall the second bill) was decent and helpful.
I am weeping angry, helpless, bitter tears. It wounds me that clerical errors and computer billing defaults can undermine months of timely payments and agreements. That these people have so much power over me, my name, and my reputation. That they can harass me by phone or mail. That their apathy or their condescension greets me on the phone like the stale breath of medieval tax collectors.
I lie here, kneecaps broken, my feet trapped in concrete shoes dangling over the edge of a boat, holding up money to the collection agencies and medical companies while they push my limp body over the edge and down into murky, choking waters.