How Can This Happen Here?

I should be able to enjoy Hallowe'en...alas, the social zombie apocalypse has ruined it for me.

I know I said I was going to post about a spooky happening this afternoon, but to be honest, I’m not sure that the story is really worth an entire blog post. To hold true to my word (and in keeping with the Hallowe’en spirit), I’ll give you the rundown:

Yesterday, as I was on the way to my office, I passed by our administrator’s door. This door is a rather solid piece of wood with a glass insert that’s about 2.5 feet wide and 3.5 feet tall. With the lights off in the office, it makes for a nifty mirror on the hallway that faces it. Well, as I was coming down the hallway, almost to the stairs that are about 3 feet in front of that door, I saw a head pass in front of me in the reflection.

I paused for a moment to consider what I’d seen: a human head, definitely out of proportion (it was smaller than it should’ve been), passed from left to right in the glass – in front of my own reflection. In other words, the head did not disappear behind my own, as if someone were walking from left to right behind me; it obscured my own reflection as if someone had passed in front of me.

But there was no one there.

I did not pause long. I kept on walking to my office, as I had something I needed to get done. But the image – and shivery implications – remain.


Now, that story might have merited more consideration from me today were it not for the simple fact that I’ve been repeatedly frustrated today by my dealings with my health insurance company, Highmark BCBS. I have the vague, unprovable notion that someone, somewhere is ripping us off when it comes to billing and claims. I can’t say that it’s the insurance company because whenever I call them, they seem to have their stuff in order. Granted, some of their rules on what is covered vs. what isn’t are maddening, and the bottom line seems to be that I chose a bad plan for my family in the name of being cheap. If so, lesson learned. We’re investigating making a change sometime soon.

Nor can I say that the issues are all on the providers who are submitting claims. As I mentioned, the BCBS policy seems to have more hidden traps than the original Pitfall video game. But there are some instances in which a provider seems to have just taken the path of least resistance when submitting a claim – not communicating with partners to get the correct billing codes; filing a claim under the generic “routine” code when the items in question were diagnostic (or non-routine) – and we end up getting hammered with an unexpected bill.

And I can’t even go into the fact that my wife has less than $200 towards her $5000 deductible, even though we’ve paid out at least four to five times that much in bills to providers (after the insurance company has denied the claim).

I’m willing to take my abuse on the fact that I don’t know much at all about insurance. I’ve legitimately tried to get away with knowing as little as I possibly can because the language, procedures and general operational nature of the business seems so convoluted that it I’m afraid I wouldn’t understand it in a million years anyway.

I’m learning, however, that I can’t keep my head in the sand.

I’m also learning that, as a consumer, if you don’t fight for yourself, the companies are going to run over you for every buck you’ve got.

This is not an anti-capitalist screed, a la the Occupy Whomever and Eat Cookies movement; and I am certainly not going to spend the next 300 words extolling the virtues of the free-market system, because we’ve apparently lost all virtue from it. What it is, is a lament. A weeping. The words of someone in deep grief.

We are a terribly broken nation. And there’s not much hope of things righting soon. Everyone (including me) wants to decry the shambles of our economic system, of our healthcare system, of our governmental system, and yet for all of the outrage, for all of the suggested remedies, nothing changes. We don’t see any sort of momentum towards real solutions, and I’m beginning to understand why.

Our system, our way of life, has always been predicated on the notion that people look out for one another and we no longer do that.

Welcome to the new millennium – it’s every man for himself.

I won’t turn this into a pining for the good old days, because the good old days were kind of rotten in many ways. But in our progression forward – for the strides we’ve made towards righting previous wrongs – we’ve cast aside those values that the old guard abused without wondering if we should. In wanting to make a brighter future, we’ve completely abandoned the past.

And we’ve done ourselves an injustice. Once upon a time, a customer wasn’t just a number, wasn’t just a figure on a bottom line that could be maximized for profit and if not, easily replaced. A customer was a living, breathing person with feelings and a family and a life that could be made better by effort and kindness. And lest I make it sound like the companies are to blame (they’re not), let’s remember – companies are made up of people who make corporate decisions based on corporate and individual values. In other words, people are choosing to shaft people, but under the convenient cover of corporate “business.”

Last night, Morley Safer gave America a little window into that world when he interviewed the Maddoff family. It wasn’t pretty.

But it’s not just business where this dog-eat-tiny-injured-kitten happens; take a look at some of the Twitter posts and Facebook updates this afternoon in the wake of Kim Kardashian’s divorce announcement. The vitriol connected to the failure of another person’s marriage is stunning. It’s schadenfreude run amok.

Somehow, in the nation that purports to be the safe-haven for all individuals, the last bastion of hope for the ideal of freedom and self-improvement, we have become a zombie society that is all too content to ravage our own for reasons that we don’t quite understand. Only this kind of zombie outbreak doesn’t stop at eating brains; it’s consuming hearts and souls as well.

The American dream has never been unbridled greed, no matter how certain people want to frame it. The American dream has always been to do the best you can while helping your neighbor achieve the same.

We’ve lost that. And my question, as simple as it is, resonates for those of us who have been trampled by the zombie apocalypse:

How could this have happened here?

3 thoughts on “How Can This Happen Here?

  1. This is a fantastic post. Bravo. Plus, I love this line:

    “It’s schadenfreude run amok.”

    Brilliant. If you ever want to collaborate on a project, I would love to write with you.


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