Bill Gates once famously predicted the paperless office and we all know how well that turned out. Crabby Old Lady too has failed at a related prediction: she believed that when she retired from the workforce, she would be able to get along with a lot less personal paper.
Among other no longer necessary documents, there would be no need for a commuter card, office security ID, employee ID, business cards, company credit card, or expense receipts to clog her wallet. It would weigh in now at about half as much.
Wrong! And the biggest reason is healthcare.
Where once Crabby carried one card that covered medical, hospital and pharmacy, she now has four: Medicare, Medicare Supplemental (because Medicare doesn’t cover everything), Medicare Rx (the infamous Part D for pharmacy needs because Medicare doesn’t cover that either), and another ID required by the pharmacy Crabby uses.
Worse, all the cards have a different identification number, each of which is 1,487 digits long. Okay, Crabby exaggerates, but they are long enough that she will never memorize them or, if she does, she’ll never sort out which number belongs with which card. Plus, by some glitch in the laws of chance all four cards have a lot of threes in them as does, maddeningly, her new Maine bank checking account number. And you would be surprised how frequently there is a need for one or more of these numbers.
In addition, although one card is plastic, the other three are made of stationery-weight paper and the Medicare card – the main card – is oversized in length and width so that it took no more than a couple of weeks in Crabby’s wallet to become tattered and worn. Only a government that makes a dollar coin the same size as a quarter - twice in 30-odd years and then wonders why no one uses it - could create the one card elders are asked to produce more than any other of paper, not plastic.
Crabby could even forgive the fact that all four cards are variations on the same color scheme if this plethora of paper covering one small aspect of her life were the only additional paper involved with being old. But no.
Not a week goes by that Crabby doesn’t receive mailings from her supplemental and prescription insurance carriers and from the pharmacy. These are long letters or colorful brochures or catalogs of physician lists and healthcare facilities.
Even more arrive from competing insurance carriers encouraging Crabby to switch (who, do we suppose, sold Crabby Old Lady's name to these other companies?) and from all major drug store chains (is anyone confused about where they got Crabby's name?) with more brochures and letters about how they will walk Crabby through the labyrinth of Medicare. The stupidity of this marketing strategy is that by the time they get Crabby's name, she has already successfully mastered Medicare bureaucracy an doesn't need help.
A visit to a physician for nothing more than an annual flu shot provokes a windstorm of paper first advising Crabby (in case she forgot) that she received the immunization, then telling her Medicare paid X dollars and "this is not a bill." More paper arrives with a billing for Crabby's co-payment, followed a few weeks later by another mailing about what she paid to keep for her records.
None of this paper shuffle happens quickly. Only a month ago, more than a year later, Crabby received the final flurry of paper for her fall 2005 flu shot.
All the mailings from Medicare contain stern orders: Do not pay this amount! Fold here! This is not a bill! Sign below! Pay this amount! Crabby feels she should salute when she reads them. All the other kinds of mailings - the sales and marketing brochures - carry within them a paternalistic tone treating Crabby as a mildly retarded child who must be gently led by the hand while her pocket is being picked.
Most recently, the healthcare company from which she purchases drug coverage sent two, two identical, large, overstuffed envelopes telling Crabby she will save money on prescriptions if she uses their “preferred mail service pharmacy” which, when she waded through the small print, Crabby found to be owned by the insurance carrier. Nowhere is there mention of the dollar amount or even percentage Crabby might save but there is a handy, pre-filled-in, postage-paid card ready for mailing with which Crabby can authorize the "preferred mail service pharmacy" to obtain her prescription from her current pharmacy.
But mostly, it’s the paper itself. No envelope makes clear when it is something Crabby needs to know – like a change in coverage or increase in price, for example – or just more marketing junk. There is so much of it, sometimes two and three mailings a day, crammed with fine print deliberately designed to appear official and important when it is not that it is disheartening to try to decipher. And so they collect on Crabby’s desk until she can’t find her blog notes…
…hence today’s post. There was something entirely more uplifting she intended to write, but Crabby can’t find her research.