Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What I’ve Learned, part 1

We’ll return to the usual bunnyosity in the near future. I just wanted to do a series of posts informing you of the things I’ve learned about bankruptcy, the credit industry, and the business side of healthcare. Legalish disclaimer – I don’t guarantee that I know all the laws in this country or whether or not things have changed since my experiences. These are just observations I’ve made that may conflict with your views of the system, especially if you had a rural conservative upbringing like me, and you may want to consider them before you do something fun like join the military, rack up credit card debt, or have a major illness.

Myth #1: if you serve in the military, the government will take care of you for the rest of your life.

My experiences: if you try to buy a house with a VA loan, the paperwork is even worse than with conventional loans or other government programs. If the house is unusual in any way, it will not meet regulations and you will be denied the loan. Real estate companies know this and tend to prefer buyers not using a VA loan.

If you need healthcare, pray that the current administration has not decided to exclude you for some reason. The VA sends updates to veterans, but only when the news is good. When the Bush administration decided to exclude people who gross more than $30k/year, I didn’t hear a peep from them. When team Obama raised the dollar amount and based it on one's adjusted gross, the VA sent me a letter informing me of what a great job they were doing. Note – the VA has several categories for people. I may have been able to get treatment if I had been awarded the purple heart, but although I did serve in combat, I foolishly didn’t manage to get shot. Just shot at (not good enough).

Side note – several members of my extended family and I have used VA hospitals throughout our lives. If you can get past the paperwork, they’re pretty good. Long waits are the norm, but I haven’t seen a VA hospital or clinic run as incompetently as the worst privately owned and operated ones I’ve had the misfortune of finding. The worst things I've seen them do consistently are that they give people unnecessary X-rays to pad their budget, they're reluctant to give out meds because there is no profit margin, and they don't try to minimize scarring when you have surgery.

Myth #2: if you are making even ridiculously low payments on your bills, hospitals have to sack up and take it for as long as you keep paying.

My experiences: this appeared relatively true until early this year. The healthcare places I’ve dealt with over the last year and a half had many tricks for getting around this, such as not providing e-mail or regular mail addresses, leaving phone numbers off bills, changing phone numbers and billing offices frequently, and by making you leave messages that go unanswered instead of allowing you to talk to a representative. One even neglected to bill me at all for sixteen months, then turned it over to a lawyer’s group for debt collection.

All of this changed early this year and I’ve heard of people being affected in different states, so it’s clearly another federal butt-reaming, although I haven’t been able to discover the specific law or act. Now (as the hospital billing offices will gleefully tell you) (if they even bother to take your call) they are only required to work with you for three months, and then they have the discretion to turn your account over to a collections agency even if you have an agreement in writing that states you will make payments and even if you make those payments. The problems associated with this are a) accounts in collections are assumed to be there because you are delinquent, thus wrecking your credit, b) they are not required to tell you that they have put your account in collections (assuming they even take your call), and c) your account is worth more to them as a deduction if you owe less than $1,000. I currently have three medical bills in collections (that I know of), each under the $1,000 mark. Even if you attempt to pay your debts, there is nothing in the system to prevent them from taking your money until it drops below $1k, then sending it to collections where it can be used as a deduction until you find the debt owners and pay it off, during which time it will damage your credit score.

More to come when I have time. Leave any questions you might have in the comments section.


Avitable said...

That's very interesting. It's unfortunate that the system is designed to take advantage of people, even if they're somewhat informed about it.

Whitemist said...

I have heard what you have said about VA hospitals -the long waits and they are generally very good.
The rest appears to be the way corporations do business with the normal folk.
It might be more honest if they simply told us "You will be a slave to me for the rest of your pathetic life..."

Captain Dumbass said...

Maybe you should just offer up one of your nuts and call it even.

April said...

Fuck them all!

I'm glad you filed.

Monogram Queen said...

I really think our credit system is about to abolished - so many people have bad credit due to the economy that it's going to have a trickle down effect. I say screw the credit and just do what works best for you and gives you piece of mind. It is a disgrace how our military people are treated in this company. There should be no income level for treatment to veterans.

Jay said...

Are these hospitals that have turned your accounts over to collections public or private? It probably doesn't matter.

The system is always designed to take advantage of people. That because the laws are written by lobbyists.

I'm moving to Mexico. Or maybe Thailand. Someplace cheap.

Robin said...

Scary stuff. Actually my SIL got her house with a VA loan, which makes me nervous, but what do I know?

tiff said...

Dang. this is scary crap, because I suspect many of us are a paycheck or two away from being on the street anyhow.

Grant said...

Avitable - I can understand taking action so people with money are required to make a decent attempt at paying their bills, but putting all the power in the hands of the hospitals was a serious public anal rape.

Whitemist - I think the lawmakers somehow thought that hospitals are agents of mercy instead of greedy corporations who will exploit any loophole in the law to make extra money.

Captain Dumbass - they would probably demand the other as payment for considering the offer.

April - me too. Now hopefully I can stay healthy enough to evade their clutches.

Monogram Queen - I have heard there is a law going into effect in 2010 that should limit the credit industry's ability to raise rates and levy fines at their whim, but that won't affect the hospitals.

Jay - I'm assuming private because they're not government owned or operated, they all belong to corporations. Thailand sounds better - cheap and with bunny.

Robin - if she has the loan and the house, she should be okay unless they got her to sign for a loan with variable interest.

tiff - the next step of my plan will be to defect to Japan. Their government regulates healthcare billing.