Signed up for Medicare Parts A and B today, as required by law. I had no questions and there was nothing to sign. I have closely studied the 135-page Medicare & YOU 2017 publication and the rest of the accompanying blizzard of health insurance industry propaganda you get when you turn 65. My coverage starts May 1 and they’ll send me something in the mail.
The actual meeting with the Medicare rep took less time than I spent passing through the security guards. There was a line of us old people patiently waiting behind the oldest and frailest among us, who had a medical aid to help manage his oxygen tank and walker. These are my peers. There was genial conversation and people talking about medical procedures.
I was reviewing documents in my folder when a wizened old fellow in front of me turned around and said:
“Did you hear about the guy who had the whole left side of his body amputated?”
“What?” I said, nonplussed by the smiling stranger. My interlocutor looked kind of like Yoda, but with apple cheeks bursting with good health and tufts of hair sticking out of his ears.
“Yep, the whole left side was amputated…” the man said, “…but he turned out alright.”
It was all so bizarre I couldn’t not laugh.
“Sorry,” said the merry fellow, “that’s my favorite dumb joke.”
Everything was copacetic there and then, but two hours later I found myself in an Anger Management scenario while talking with a sales rep about Medicare Parts C and D.
What I learned from my 12-step program is that I was angry about wasting my life on a 40-hour week treadmill. I value time more than money and experiences more than things. When the opportunity for a part-time position at the library became available, I applied for it, transferring to a branch closer to my home. I gave up health insurance, but improved my health and well-being. My Anger Management issues were solved by working less, joining the legions of part-time people.
These days, I generally enjoy going to work and think of it as a chance to help others while broadening my horizons. You meet the most unusual cross-section of humanity in a public library. Dealing with all of them is what keeps it interesting. My job is a planet I visit every day, but not the center of my world.
Another reason my anger management issues went away was not having to commute in a car. Working part-time gives me more time to do things I enjoy, such as writing and biking–even biking to work. There’s no finer way to invigorate yourself before engaging in serious work. After work, biking home is a quiet, alone time to process events of the day. This flexible window of time between work and home is key to my health and happiness.
So it was shocking today when I found myself getting angry for the first time in years. It happened in the cramped office of the credit union where I had arranged to meet with a sales lady for United Healthcare. Randi Lavendar–is that even her real name?–has no idea of how it all blew up in her face.
I came in smiling, fully prepared with a legal-size folder stuffed full of health insurance plans and spread them out on her desk. They were bedizened with yellow sticky notes, facts and figures highlighted and underlined.
This is a negotiating ploy I learned from T.J. in his class on Anger Management 101. Take the initiative and take up space. That worked pretty well for about ten minutes, as I repeatedly interrupted Randi’s sales spiel, digging out competing facts and figures from other companies. Finally, she stopped talking and, taking a deep breath, gathered up all my paraphernalia and firmly handed it back to me.
She was a thirty-something, attractive young woman, confident and assertive. A little older than my daughter, and a little more brassy.
“Please,” she said, laying out a single piece of blank paper on the desk, “let me show you why you don’t need all that information.” There was silence for a few minutes as she sketched an outline of Medicare parts A and B and C and D and then lines connecting them with a few basic options.
“I’m here to help you,” she said, “there’s all kinds of options. You could get part D coverage for as little an zero dollars.”
“That’s what I want! Zero dollars for prescription care coverage. I don’t need drugs and I don’t want to support the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t want insurance at all, but it’s the law. I haven’t had insurance since I started working part-time. My health improved immediately.”
“I can tell,” said Randi, trying to get a word in edge-wise. “I can see you’re very fit. You take care of your own health. That’s great. Accident insurance is really all you need. Like for an auto accident or something.”
“Or if I break a leg skiing,” I said. “Or mountain climbing.” I tried to think of extreme endeavors, but mostly I play it safe.
“Exactly!” said Randi, feeling that she was finally getting through to me.
Thanks to Anger Management training I recognized the symptoms of my own rising anger. Beating heart. Shortness of breath. Talking too loud, too fast.
Randi plunged on with her sales pitch. I tried to calm down by zoning out her droning voice, nodding when it seemed appropriate, but no longer listening, concerned more with managing my anger at having to buy a product I don’t want. Let’s just wrap this up, I thought. Get me out of here before I say something I’ll regret.
I focused on seeing Randi as a fellow victim of the health care industry. She’s just doing her job, working on commission. Of course she has to try to up-sell me things I don’t need or want. It took about ten minutes of acting like a good listener…and then I was ready to go.
“You know what,” said Randi, wrapping up, “I think we can get you signed up today. You won’t have to take all this home with you to study. What do you say?”
“I’m not buying anything today. I agreed to this meeting because you said you would help me understand the options. Just give me the paper work. I’ll discuss it with my wife and we’ll make a decision. My wife is someone I know.”
“Here, let me give you my card,” said Randi. “We can schedule another appointment now, or you can call me when you’re ready.”
“I don’t want an appointment.”
“So I can help you fill out the forms.”
“I don’t need any help filling out forms. I work for the government. That’s what we do all day.”
Sarcasm is a sure sign that you’re losing control of anger–and it’s not very useful. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up out of my chair and storming out of that claustrophobic den of inequity.
“Okay. I understand,” said Randi, “you’re under a lot of stress today. Applying for Medicare is very stressful. I’m really sorry to be adding to your problems today. If you don’t want an appointment with me…”
“I don’t want an appointment with anybody!”
I certainly had her full attention now, as she almost physically backed away. And yet kept on selling.”I was just going to say you can visit our website to learn more about it. And I just have to tell you about this special new benefit where you can have up to $50 credit every quarter for shopping at our on-line store.”
“Fifty dollars credit every quarter? For what? To buy crap I don’t need?”
I apologized immediately for my language. Randi apologized for causing me stress. Please don’t take it personally, I said. She apologized for having to go through the whole routine.
“I know,” I said. “You’re required to tell me about this deal because of your job.”
“I am,” she admitted. “I have to do it for my job.”
All these years later, it’s odd to discover just how easy it is to tap volcanic emotions, simmering just beneath the surface.
Biked home. Talked it over with the wife. Took the lead role in cooking dinner from a recipe for Cauliflower Couscous that Suzanne had found in Renew, the United Healthcare propaganda magazine.
Working in the backyard after dinner, I discovered 5 deer loitering in our orchard, nibbling choice green buds. They stared at me as I advanced upon them, making shoo-ing motions with my hands and saying “getalongnow” in a reasonable tone of voice. They stared and went on munching. You should have seen them jump when I got behind the wheelbarrow and charged.
Leaping across the ditch to my neighbor’s pasture, the herd soon resumed their insolent strolling about. Grabbing up the rake I charged again, yelling like a crazy person and beating the rake against a pile of dead branches until they all disappeared into the woods.
“What an asshole,” the deer must be thinking about me. But oh what a feeling.