Twitter vs. the HMO


Posted on Twitter: Sorry for the delay in replies: BP emergency & wrestling with BCBSMA’s Rx system. Making progress tho, and BP under control thx to CVS.

My blood pressure had peaked at 158/103. Yes, you read that correctly. I had run out of medication at just about the time my HMO asked me to switch over to their online mail-order system.

Now, I have no problem with that. I love the Internet, and I love mail-order. And it certainly makes sense to me: why buy retail, when online does just as well (which it does in this case, or even better) for less money?

But the first thing I discovered was that it would take a couple weeks. No problem: I’ll just get a month’s worth from the local CVS pharmacy, then schedule the next batch for next month. That’s what the HMO’s literature recommended. Then CVS called to say that the HMO wouldn’t pay, because the prescription was marked for mail-order only. Oy.

Then when I tried to register on the mail-order website, following the instructions, it told me, “Please make the following corrections: Unexpected error occurred. Could not find message for[java.lang.NullPointerException].” As a software developer, I’d be happy to correct that problem (for a fee). Moreover, as a developer, I felt simply wonderful about these people having access to my medical data. Oy vey.

And most importantly, I was not getting any closer my drugs, and I was starting to jones.

At first, I thought I could probably get by, at least for a time. As I recalled, my blood pressure was merely on the border, not dangerously high, and that was before I had lost weight and begun to exercise regularly. But I had slept poorly for two nights, and my body didn’t seem to care, except for a dull throbbing behind my eyes. Then I actually checked my blood pressure. And when my Beloved found out it was 147/98, yeah, she kinda freaked. Called my doctor after-hours—didn’t ask me about it, just called. (And after this, it actually went up a little more before it went down.)

Before that happened, however, I called CVS, asked how much it money it would take just to pay for the prescription outright. I had already looked it up online. This is not some cancer wonder-drug. It’s, like, $15 to $20 via mail-order. Even after a markup for retail, that’s, what? $25? $30? However, instead of answering that question, the pharmacist at CVS advanced me 5 days’ worth—no charge—so I wouldn’t have to go without while I contacted my HMO according to the instructions they had left.

So—here’s the real funny part, though it didn’t feel funny at the time. The HMO had included in their communications to CVS a phone number I should call in order to “opt-out” (whatever that meant) of the mail-order process. I didn’t know what that meant, but I figured it was worth trying to get them to cough up an extra few bucks, so that I could switch over to their mail-order system without dying from hypertension in the process.

I called the phone number, and after an appropriate period on hold, I was connected with a woman who clearly had a sock in her mouth. Literally, I could just barely understand her: she fowmd’d juft likhe thif. She might have even been a computer—she spoke in a measured monotone—a computer with a sock in its mouth. She asked me for certain information, and I had to ask her to repeat herself several times, because her voice was so muffled. But I was able to give her all the information she needed. At least I assume that is true, because she told me she could not help me. She also told me why she couldn’t help me, but I didn’t understand her, because she had a sock in her mouth. And then she gave me another phone number I should call, which I didn’t catch, because she had a sock in her mouth. And she asked if she could help me with anything else, and I said, “No,” because I was afraid that if I said anything else I would have to talk to her some more, and that seemed to me a bad idea, because she had a sock in her mouth, and my blood pressure was still 165/98 (or thereabouts).

I picked up the pills from CVS, where I told the pharmacist I thought I’d just have to call every phone the HMO had and keep hammering at them until I found someone with two brain cells to rub together. He wished me his best. Nice guy, and a lifesaver. Then I managed to find an alternate route into registering on the mail-order site, which made me feel like I had actually accomplished something. That’s when I tweeted on Twitter, “Sorry for the delay in replies: BP emergency & wrestling with BCBSMA’s Rx system. Making progress tho, and BP under control thx to CVS.”

Now, here’s the thing: if you run a business, by the time a tweet like that hits Twitter, you’re doing damage control. You’ve probably already had at least one chance at fixing the problem—and this HMO indeed had.

So imagine my surprise when the following day I received a tweet from BCBSMA support: “If you are still having issues filling your medication please DM us your identification number. I’d be happy to help you.”

I verified that this Twitter account was indeed the support account for the real BCBSMA, and sent them the message: “My ID# is *************. We’re switching over to Express Scripts, but I need a month of BP meds to hold me over. Can you help?” Which fits within 140 characters and was essentially the same thing I had asked the woman with the sock in her mouth.

They took care of it. Just like that.

All hail social media.