If you have a chronic illness, odds are you have spoken to a bill collector. Whether it is from a hospital, doctor, pharmacy, insurance or collections office, it can be very frustrating. How do you find joy?
By Lisa Copen
Sixteen months after I had four joints replaced in my hand I received a large bill that looked like a duplicate of one I had already paid. The name on the bill however, was “Joe.” My husband’s name (who carried the insurance) is Joel. I called the surgery center and explained that I believed there were two accounts and one was a duplicate of the other.
The woman in accounting didn’t believe so.
“That is just how it is addressed,” she explained. The bill is for Joel.”
“No,” I replied. “Everything on this bill says Joe. I won’t be paying this until I receive a bill with the correct name on it.”
“I see here your middle name is Joelle,” she said.
“Well, that explains it then,” she said with a satisfied sigh.
Did I wake up in another world where logic was skewed?
Dealing with bills of any kind, especially medical ones, can be a frustrating and exhausting process. You have to find a sense of humor or you will quickly feel your blood pressure rise (and then you will have a new set of bills for that.) I don’t envy the people who work in the accounting or collection departments, but I do wonder how they can get so creative in their explanations.
I’ve learned over the years a few tips that help me get the most out of my experience and hopefully cheer up their day too.
1. Be kind. When they answer my call I say, “I know this is not your fault, but you are unlucky person that answered my call. I’d like to explain the situation to you and then seek your expertise on what my next step should be.” If you offer validation and acknowledge their experience they are more likely to help you out.
2. Write down information! For example, ask for his or her name and write it down. Later when someone says, “Who told you that?” you will have an answer. When the person says they are transferring your call, ask, “What is the number in case I get disconnected?” When they say, “I will call you back this afternoon,” ask the bill collector, “Could I get your direct extension just in case I don’t hear from you.”
3. Be yourself (if you are a happy person). I’ve been on the phone on these important calls when the cat has brought a lizard into the house, my son was covered in chalk dust, and the doorbell wouldn’t quit ringing. If you have a little joy in your voice as you explain a problem, they will be more likely to help you find the answer.
4. Be able to send and receive faxes. Google “free online fax” for many services that have a 30-day free trial. If you are doing a lot of research for a bill, you may find this helpful. These usually work through your email account.
5. Zap the angry emotions. They hear frustration from people all day. Sounding a little flabbergasted is okay. You don’t want them to take advantage of your kindness. But do your best not to get angry and do not ever raise your voice.
6. Expect to wait. Be prepared to wait on hold awhile, so get a headset and a book to read. Call when you have plenty of time. When the bill collector says, “sorry for keeping you waiting,” say, “That’s okay. I don’t mind waiting if you can help me out and not transfer me around.”
7. Say thank you. When someone is trying to help you or going the extra mile tell them you appreciate it. I have told many people “You have saved me so much time by doing the research for me instead of just transferring my call around. Thank you for making my day!” When I have received exceptional service I have asked the person how I could let her supervisor know. People rarely hear this. You will be surprised at how much they appreciate it.
8. Share your faith. I naturally tend to find a way to share why I have joy in my life. As a person in accounting looks at a bill and says, “Oh my gosh! You had the flesh eating bacteria?” I may respond, “Yes. It’s by the grace of God I am still here.” Sometimes they will say, “Wow, you sound so cheerful despite all of this,” so I will respond, “Well, God gets me through each day. Thankfully, He is the source of my joy, not the abilities of this body!”
If I have handled the call patiently, with thankfulness extended toward the person, and have controlled any anger about the situation, then when I talk about God I am not being hypocritical. A bill collecter hears from angry, rude people every day, all day, who are bitter about their illness and everything else in the world too. I hope I can be a light in a dark world to show them the reason for my joy.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since 1993. She lives in San Diego with her husband and son and the author of the much-loved devotional book Mosaic Moments: Devotionals for the Chronically Ill.