Monday, February 02, 2009

Is this bill for insurance not purchased an AARP ripoff? A United Healthcare ripoff? Or just "a mistake?" You decide.

There are reasons I'm a cranky old fart. Consider this one:

After Congress invented the ridiculous and unnecessarily complicated "doughnut hole" prescription drug plan a few years ago, I signed up for it with AARP. I figured, what could be wrong with an AARP plan? They're there simply to represent the needs of older Americans, right?

Whoops! I forgot that AARP is first and foremost a sales agent for various insurance and travel businesses. "Lobbying" on behalf of senior citizens is largely a way of sucking us into their sales machine.

When old farts like me buy United Healthcare health insurance through AARP, those wonderful folks at AARP get a piece of the action. That may be why AARP never protested on behalf of the people it supposedly "represents" — as they should have — that the doughnut hole Prescription Drug Plan was outrageous and the financial benefit pathetic.

Last November, I found a cheaper prescription drug plan that gives me essentially the same benefits as the AARP plan. I notified Medicare via its website, did all the paperwork, and in due course found myself enrolled in somebody else's inadequate-but-cheaper drug plan, beginning January 1 of this year.

Cancellation of the AARP plan was unnecessary, according to the government's own website. (Root around here if you must, and try not to go blind.)

You'd think that would be the end of it. You'd be thinking wrong.

United Healthcare/AARP
duns me for money anyway

A couple of days ago I received an invoice from the AARP Medicare RX plan. (Note that in the letterhead above, United Healthcare's and AARP's logos both appear.)

It was a dunning letter for money I didn't owe them. To quote part of the letter above (from which I've redacted my name, address and other information for obvious reasons):

Our records indicate there is a balance due of $59.60 on your AARP MedicareRX Preferred account. The balance represents premium owed for 01-31-2009.

Please remit this amount by 01-31-2009 in the enclosed envelope to bring your account up to date. Be sure to include your member ID number on you check or money order. Please be advised, all payments made by you will be posted to the oldest outstanding balance on your account...
Is this a billing fraud?

Where I come from, sending people bills for services they haven't purchased is considered fraud. When the fraud is committed against the elderly — many of them vulnerable because of poor eyesight, problems concentrating, and in some cases confusion caused by dementia — it's not just a fraud. It's an execrably vicious fraud.

So I called AARP to complain. After the usual pushbutton hell exercise you go through calling any corporate bureaucracy these days, I got through to a real person. And he wanted something: my former member ID number and my mailing address. Fair enough. I gave it to him.

"Don't let 'em go until you
capture their private information
for your marketing database"

Then he wanted my telephone number. Why? He wouldn't say, other than he couldn't deal with whatever it was I wanted until he had my phone number.

Outrageous! But okay, I gave him my phone number.

"E-mail address?" he asked.

"What do you need that for?"

He kept insisting he wanted my e-mail address. But he never gave me a reason why he needed it.

I believe I can tell you why he needed it. He needed it so that AARP and United Healthcare can refine their marketing databases. And perhaps so that they can sell my information (and your information if you call them, too) to other direct marketers.

Finally I started to yell into the telephone. Maybe I scared him. He finally told me that the bill "was a mistake" and that I could ignore it.

Mistake? A mistake times how many tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands among the millions of AARP members who may have renewed their insurance with another company? And how much could this fraudulent billing enrich AARP and United Healthcare at $59.60 a pop?

Maybe you believe it was a mistake. Personally, I'd sooner believe in the Tooth Fairy.


lucius0729 said...

I don't know the author but I will tell anybody that listens, my mother has Coventry Advantra with her Medicare and the most she pays for ANY prescription is $5.36, most of them are $2.26.

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