Last week I wrote about turning 65 and signing up for Social Security. Now I was want to tell you what happened next. It isn’t pretty. I quickly descended from “social insecurity” into an advanced state of Social Security Madness.
When I signed up for Social Security benefits this Spring, I also selected Medicare Part B. I didn’t need health insurance; Handsome Hubby and I already have good, inexpensive lifetime coverage. But I thought Medicare is inexpensive and a little extra insurance couldn’t hurt. I was wrong. It’s hurting plenty.
A week after signing up, I received a letter informing me that the original modest $135.50 monthly insurance premium, after an income-adjusted calculation, would be increased an additional $325 per month. That increase canceled out the benefits of having a second policy. So, per the directions of that letter, I called SS to cancel Medicare Part B.
And that’s when the madness began.
Social Security Madness
A discombobulated recording droned on with three minutes’ worth of information I did not need to hear before finally telling me what I did want to know – my wait time: 49 minutes. Alternately, I was “advised” I could leave my call back number. I opted to do that. An hour later, the call came. The connection was terrible. The SS representative abruptly hung up. Surely, she would try again? I waited. I crossed my fingers and I hoped. But no callback.
So, back to Square One. I called, listened to the discombobulated recording with its three-minutes’ worth of worthless information, and was advised of my new wait time – 65 minutes. This time, I stayed on the line. Finally, a SS representative spoke to me, “Oh, no. you cannot cancel Medicare Part B on the phone. You need to write a letter stating your desire to do so. And you must submit it within 10 days.”
Why didn’t the letter informing me of the monthly premium increase provide that information in the first place? Instead, I had been forced to place a frustrating, time-consuming phone call (more accurately, two phone calls)? Well, it’s a bureaucracy — and it now had me in its maws!
I wrote the cancelation letter ASAP and hand-delivered it to the local SS office that same day, placing it in the designated steel-gray metal drop-off box. Then, for good measure, I mailed a copy to the same SS office.
Proud of myself for being so on top of things, I went out and celebrated with a fancy café au lait – decaf with non-fat milk, of course, known world-wide to baristas as a “why bother?”
Social Security Madness Escalates
My celebration and cancelation letter were in vain.
About two weeks later, I received another official letter informing me that a $135.50 Medicaid Part B insurance payment had been deducted from my first benefit check. I also was informed that out of the next benefit check SS would retroactively deduct $325 (the rest of the income-adjusted higher premium amount) for the month just concluded PLUS, (of course!) deduct the full, higher insurance premium amount for the next month.
In sum, I was charged for something I had canceled and the government additionally claimed I owed money for benefits I never wanted! Worse yet, Medicaid B was still NOT cancelled.
Huh? Was I crazy? Had I not followed the rules? Had I not done what I was told to do? And had I not been a “good girl” like my mother had raised me? What the H@#l? Of course, I had followed the rules! This was annoying. Not fair. Not right.
I trotted, no – I marched, no – I stormed – back to the SS office. Like all supplicants to the Great Bureaucracy, I first stood in line to get a little numbered ticket – just like when you go for ice cream, but filled with less anticipatory joy and no free samples!
Then I waited.
While I waited, I stewed. I hadn’t brought anything to read because I expected to catch up on a backlog of articles I had saved on my phone. But, leave it to the government, there was no Wi-Fi reception in the reception area!
When my number was called, I was excited. I thought I was actually seeing someone to resolve the problem! Foolish me! This was just Step One: Getting checked in – like to a hotel or an insane asylum.
Deeper into the Belly of the Beast
Finally, my name, I mean, my number was called.
Speaking in a slightly disembodied voice from the other side of a glass partition, the SS representative informed me “the office” never received my letter(s). I tried giving her a copy, but she refused to take it!
Besides, she said, even if SS had received the letter, it wasn’t the proper procedure for canceling Medicaid Part B no matter what I had been told. I started to argue that I had been “told” by a SS representative to send in the letter, but what was the point?
The SS rep handed me a one-page “Request for Termination of Premium Hospital and/or Supplementary Medical Insurance” form and sent me back to the reception area to complete it.
It took one minute to complete the form which simply required my name, address, phone number, the date, my signature, and a check-mark by two boxes. One minute to complete a form. Then a 46-minute wait to hand it back to the same woman, get it stamped, and leave.
She did give me her phone number, which I thought meant I had secured an ally. But when I tried to reach her in the MANY weeks that followed, she NEVER returned my calls.
Hear Me Roar … PLEASE
You know, as a middle-aged woman, I have grown accustomed to the invisibility that comes with my middle-aged looks. Yet, this invisibility and, more importantly, this lack of voice in a dispute with a huge bureaucracy is a different sort of thing. It is maddening and dispiriting.
Two months later and two more trips to SS, the bureaucratic powers-that-be finally canceled Medicare Part B, but SS still refuses to refund the money incorrectly deducted from past benefit checks.
On my latest “pilgrimage” to the local office, I was advised to file a “Request for Reconsideration” form which provides an option for a hearing. Reconsideration and a hearing. That’s a laugh! I don’t feel I’ve been treated with any consideration or that anybody’s been “hearing” anything I’ve said (or written).
It’s ironic. Social Security benefits are something older Americans have earned. Yet, as I try to negotiate this process, it has fallen decidedly short of beneficial. And as I have sat in that blasted Wi-Fi-less waiting area, I’ve looked at the faces of the people sitting there as well. Nobody looks happy. Nobody looks like they’re “enjoying” the perks of the government benefits they’re entitled to. It’s a dreary, sad place. And it’s not the staff. They’re nice enough. Just nobody can make a decision. It’s all just a dysfunctional impersonal “process.”
And for me, this isn’t simply a battle to reclaim two months’ worth of incorrectly deducted insurance premiums, although the amount isn’t insubstantial. There’s a bigger financial issue at stake.
Over the past two-month period, I’ve accumulated medical bills. And because the government’s taken out Medicaid Part B insurance payments for two months, the system says I had Medicaid Part B for two months. So, now my private insurance company won’t pay my medical bills until the government pays its share.
Help! I’m in insurance limbo! Or more accurately insurance hell.
Happy 65th birthday indeed.
If this isn’t resolved soon, I may need to make a doctor’s appointment and get medication to alleviate my stress. But then I’ll be accruing more unpaid bills, which will lead to more stress.
This is true Social Insecurity. No, I stand corrected. This is Social Security Madness!!!