Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Thoughts After Discussions With An Insurance Company
Biblical writers often speak of “powers and principalities” and we, good post-modernists, duly write such language off as irrelevant to our evolved society. This week, I came up against the powers and principalities of our world, and came away bruised. I want to talk about it.
One of my chronic ailments is sciatica. Something in my lower spine becomes swollen or misplaced or something and impinges on my sciatic nerve. The pain is simply indescribable and believe me, you do not want to experience it first-hand. Fortunately, Brother Sciatica only comes to visit me about twice a year, and when he does, he can be easily evicted by an epidural injection into my spine.
Brother Sciatica came to visit at the end of May, about six months after the last injection. It got worse and worse and I became disabled by the pain by June. I called my doctor, made an appointment, and we decided to do another injection. This was on a Friday, and his office informed me that they had to have pre-approval from the insurance company. That puzzled me, but I could not imagine it to be a problem.
I have a poor imagination, apparently.
On Monday, I called to get the date for the injection. They told me they had not heard from the insurance company and suggested that I call them. This is the place where the powers and principalities began to show their teeth.
I connected with a customer service representative. I think she could hear the pain in my voice because I was on a cane by then. She agreed the situation needed to be accelerated, but said she saw no request for a pre-approval. My heart sank. I know where this sort of thing leads – to everyone blaming everyone else.
To my great surprise, though, she offered to stay on the phone and connect me with the right people to get it done. When she had made the connection, she did, indeed, stay on the line and told the woman we were connected to, “Mr. Schneider is in a lot of pain. We need to help him.”
To my very great surprise, someone, somewhere in a call center, was feeling sympathy for my condition and relating to me as an individual, one of God’s children in distress. She was actually offering to help, and staying on the line to do it. This was the last bright spot of the day.
After she disconnected, the new person started all over again, heard my story, but felt that she couldn’t address the issue. She offered to connect me to just the person who could. This repeated until I had spent 30 minutes on the telephone and had spoken to five different people, each of whom treated me with escalating desire to pass me and my problem on to someone else’s desk.
This is the voice of the powers that lead insurance companies. A company, an incorporated entity, has a simple ethic. It must provide an adequate return to its investors and it must shield the principals from liability should something go wrong. By their design, corporations are idolatrous. They acknowledge only these two gods – return on investment and protection of principals. A corporation which cleaves to these principles is a good corporation. There is no place in a corporation’s morals for it to respond with sympathy to crippling pain.
I complained to the Kentucky Retirement System, and they apparently got on someone at the insurance company because I received a telephone call from a representative later that afternoon. I tried to tell her the trouble I had experienced, but she cut me off curtly, telling me that she didn’t need to hear all of that again, gave me a pro forma apology and proceeded to tell me that she would resolve the problem within 24 hours or 4 days. The acknowledgement of my humanity which I had experienced from the first representative was now long in the past. This woman, speaking for the corporation, had a job to do – to somehow address my complaint in a way which wouldn’t lead to a public relations problem. I was no longer a human being in pain. I was a problem to be solved.
When I insisted on telling her how angry I was, she became angry. My feelings and distress are not of any importance to the powers and principalities. Instead, she told me that he problem, as the corporation saw it, was that the first woman, the one who reached out to me in compassion, never should have attempted to solve the problem by forwarding my call. Instead, she should have told me that my doctor's office would have to request the authorization, and sent me to speak (again) to my doctor. Since the problem began, in her mind, by someone deviating from the morality of the corporation, that employee would be “coached” and “counselled”.
The corporation cannot entertain the possibility that its policies and procedures are incompetent to address human needs because addressing human needs is not a goal of the corporation except to the extent that doing so enhances investor return. Rather than to address the problem within itself, a scapegoat was found.
This is not a problem with this corporation uniquely, nor with corporations as a group. It is a problem with any organization, company, country or (God help us) church which comes to hold power over human lives. Inevitably, such an entity will act to protect itself and will victimize even its own members in self-defence of its corporate goals.
The culture of the United States of America is informed by two great myths: the myth of redemptive violence, that a violent response is the only appropriate and effective response to threat, and the myth fostered by Horatio Alger, that with pluck, luck, and hard work anyone can rise to the top. Both myths are demonic and destructive, leaving a trail of blood and tears through our history. Like the insurance company, however, we have agreed not to see the systemic failures these two great myths represent. Instead, we focus on individuals, scapegoats upon which we then vent our violence, since we permit ourselves to do so shamelessly against those who trespass on that which we hold sacred.
The debate over capital punishment and the calls for drug-testing welfare recipients offer excellent perspectives from which to view both myths. Clearly, the myth goes, since anyone by pluck, luck and hard work can succeed then those who have not succeeded clearly have not applied pluck, luck and hard work. They must be on drugs. Florida’s experience, which, according to the New York Times, “Ushered in amid promises that it would save taxpayers money and deter drug users, a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data” is still being pursued by many states, such is the power of the myth. Despite the evidence of the Innocence Project demonstrating how often and how tragically our court system reaches erroneous results, despite the entire history of humanity which demonstrates that violence begets only violence, we cling to the myth of redemptive violence as to a Savior of humanity.
Because we work within the powers and principalities of our world, and are therefore beholden to them for our livelihoods, we have absorbed their idolatry and their Scripture into our very DNA. Those who deviate from it, like the first woman to whom I spoke who insisted on seeing me as a human being, will be scapegoated until they have disappeared and our landscape is reduced to a dry, blowing waste.