Better no title than an obscene title

I am going to share the following experience to make a point.

On February 8, I went for my appointment with a neurosurgeon whom I hadn’t seen before. The receptionist handed me a form that asked for, among other things, my SS#* and Peggy’s SS#. When I refused to give these due to concerns about identity theft, the receptionist said that she needed them in order to bill insurance. I knew that this wasn’t true, so I refused to give them a second time. She then said I would have to pay for the entire doctor’s visit before I left, and that she would then bill insurance and reimburse me when payment was received. This contradicted what she had just said, but I saw no point in arguing with someone who wasn’t in a position of power, so I agreed to make the payment, and sat back down.

When a half hour passed, and I still hadn’t been called by the nurse, I went back to the receptionist and asked to speak to the practice manager about the SS# requirement. As I was making this request, my name was called, so Peggy and I left the front desk and were shown into an examining room.

After several minutes, a woman who introduced herself as Heidi came in. Heidi was the kind of person who just naturally inspired trust, and this made her well qualified for the lies she was about to tell. She said that both my insurance administrator (HMA) and the federal government required that I provide mine and Peggy’s SS#s. I told Heidi that I had a number of doctors and none of them had these numbers. She said that her office’s contract with HMA stipulated that it obtain them for payment purposes.

Heidi also said that I could still see the doctor if I paid for the visit in full, and that she would bill HMA, and reimburse me when she received payment, although she doubted that HMA would make payment unless I provided our SS#s. When I said that I had already agreed to pay after I saw the doctor, Heidi said that the doctor wouldn’t see me unless I paid first, so Peggy went back to the front desk and did so. When the doctor came in, I took the matter up with her, and she said that patients who decline to provide all requested information always leave without paying.

When I got home, I checked with both the federal government and HMA to verify that neither of them required that I provide a SS#. The HMA representative said that the doctor’s office probably just wanted the information in order to track us more quickly if there was a billing dispute. In other words, the doctor wasn’t content with my photo, my birthdate, my phone number, my driver’s license number, a copy of my insurance card, and contact information for Peggy’s employer; they also wanted the very last piece of information that an identity thief would need.

Now for my point. The most common means by which identity thieves operate is through insiders in medical offices, yet every form I fill out when I see a new doctor asks for information that the doctor doesn’t need but which gives identity thieves every last piece of information that they do need. I never provide SS#s, and no other doctor has insisted upon them. The fact that I was the only complainer in that large waiting room suggests how foolishly compliant most people are. In my case, I live with pain; I had waited two months to see this doctor; and I had spent $650 on a test she had ordered, so this would have made me more vulnerable to her unreasonable requirement had I not hardened myself against such things.

Just over the past ten years, I have seen businesses of all sorts rush pell-mell into invading their customers’ privacy and stripping them of their legal rights. For example, more and more stores are requiring the customer to provide his or her name, address, and phone number in return for an I.D. card that allows him to buy products on sale. These cards allow the stores to track his every purchase so that they—and the companies they sell the information to—can better target their advertising.

Where I live, at least, you can no longer buy a car without first agreeing to binding arbitration if a problem develops, and the dealer even reserves the right to pick the arbitrator! When I protested this, I was told that it was a government requirement, and that I was the first customer who ever had a problem with it. I later verified that these were lies to get me to fall into line, yet dealers couldn’t get away with such outrages if most customers didn’t fall into line, and it is this very mentality that disturbs me far more than the requirements themselves. Everyday, we give up more pieces of our privacy and even our basic legal rights, and I see no end to it as long as most people don’t have the guts to say no to unreasonable demands.

I have filed complaints about Heidi’s lies with the SS Inspector General, the Oregon Dept of Justice, and the Better Business Bureau. I have also asked my credit card company to wipe the charge from my bill. When I think of something else to do, I’ll do that too.

*A Social Security number is an individualized nine-digit number that is used for various government related purposes. If someone has your name, your SS#, and your birthday, he can steal your identity.

March 30 update: After demanding that I pay the FULL COST of the visit upfront, Heidi turned around and billed insurance for twice that amount. I went ballistic, and today she refunded ALL of the money I paid in the apparent hope of getting me off her back. My insurance company will still pay through the nose, but that’s by their choice not mine.


A Brit in Tennessee said...

I agree wholeheartedly there needs to be a better system.
My daughter was the victim of credit card fraud, due to her husband throwing away a company flyer with his social security number printed on it.
This was twenty years ago, before I.D.theft was common knowledge, we had to beg the Secret Service to get involved. It has had a lifelong impact on my daughter's credit, they lost a chance at buying their first home, she underwent a miscarriage, I could go on and on.....
I completely agree with you on this, I hardly ever hand over my social security number without balking first.

kylie said...

for the record, i wouldnt have minded an obscene title!

i'm glad you stood up, snow, someone has to and i normally comply with these sorts of things.

having said that, theres not so much to comply with here. i provide the doc with my medicare card and thats all i'm obliged to give them.

i know identity theft is your main concern here but i get really mad with people who lie about stuff like that, even when there is next to nothing at stake. i dont like the assumption that i dont know any better. i also dislike the assumption that i need to be lied to in order to co-operate. if a reasonable person makes a reasonable request i will try to meet that request so why lie? it makes all sorts of inaccurate assumptions about me and about human nature in general

ellen abbott said...

Two things, not necessarily in this order:

1. People are stupid.

2. People are lazy.

Crazed Nitwit said...

Hey Snowy! Guess what? This is something I completely agree with you about(grin). Who knew? I'm proud of you for not getting angry. Because I would have wanted to get angry. Very angry. I have serious issues with the whole medical establishment about things like this. Lying is really not acceptable.

I hope the visit with this neurologist was somewhat helpful.

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike neurologists in general? Something about the God complex many of them carry around. (Of course not every neurologist is like that but the ones I dealt with when my youngest was sick really made the whole situation worse in many ways.)

Bernie said...

Snow I have a real hard time knowing someone in a position of selling a car, collecting information for medical forms are allowed to "lie" What purpose does this fulfill? It cannot be legal for a company to tell you "its a government requirement" when it isn't. Strange Snow, very, very strange. Then I have always been one that believes most people are honest, we don't have to give our SSI# to anyone other than for government forms. Good luck finding a resolution to all of this. I do believe you are right here Snow and respect the fact you are doing what you can to make it right for yourself and others.

The Blog Fodder said...

Same problem in Canada. Our Social Insurance Number SIN is only for use by the federal government but every outfit known to man wants it.

Natalie said...

That is despicable.I am angry now too.

Snowbrush said...

Brit, your response is a testament to how bad identity theft can be. I've read many books about protecting my identity--and many horror stories about people whose identities were stolen--and I go to considerable effort to safeguard mine and Peggy's. Yet, I would never claim that we're completely safe.

Kylie said: "or the record, i wouldnt have minded an obscene title!"

I only hesitated for fear that some prude might report me to Blogger for having an "adult blog," and ever thereafter my readers would have to pass through a disclaimer.

Ellen, to stupid and lazy, I would add weak.

Bernie, I think Heidi probably did break a law, but getting anyone in the government to go after her is probably unlikely. I would suspect that, unless she has gotten into trouble for doing the same thing before, the worst she will get is a warning.

Nitwit, the fact that I don't throw a fit in an office doesn't mean that I'm not mad. It just means that I wouldn't expect doing so to be productive. However, if I should have the good fortune to see Heidi bleeding to death on the side of the road, I would do a little happy dance as I watched.

Snowbrush said...

Fodder, I wondered if you have similar problems in Canada.

Natalie, do you run into this kind of thing in Australia?

By the way, my SS card (that I got way back in the '60s) when I was 15) clearly states: "Not to be used for identification purposes".

All Consuming said...

Fantastic, that's an outrage and they deserve to be reported and possibly tarred and feathered at that. It angers me so much that people in their position harangue those in pain. Identity theft is a very real threat and can ruin lives.If they're anything like the medical community over here don't know their heads from their arses either. Twice on the run now I've put in long prescriptions with the doctor both times I find out he's not given me the right medication and omitted ones I need. General rant happening now as you can see tsk.

River said...

We don't have SS#s here in Australia, but identity theft is getting to be a big problem. Now and again there are programs on TV showing people going through garbage, breaking into mailboxes, to get information they can use to stael your identity. For this reason I bought a shredder and now I shred everything that has this type of information and put it in a tin can. When the can is full I take it outside and burn the shreddings.

R. J. said...

Two days ago, I tried to make an appointment with an eye doctor. The person scheduling appointments wanted my SSN which I refused to give because Medicare doesn't cover this. She wouldn't make an appointment over the phone without it, so I will find a different doctor.

Marion said...

This is one of my soap box issues, too, Snow. Dealing with pain management doctors, I've been though something similar. I'm forced to take a piss test every time I visit my doctor. They have the equipment to do these tests in a matter of minutes in their office. I am billed $350 for this test EVERY time and I have to fight to get it paid for by my insurance carrier. Every time it's a phone battle. It's hell to be treated like a criminal just to get some ineffective medicine. The doctor claims that it's federal law, but I've not researched it yet. I think it's yet another insurance scam to rip off honest people.

My 84 year old mother has arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis in her shoulder. This is in addition to degenerating disks in her back due to severe osteoporosis. She uses pain patches which Medicare/Medicaid NOW refuse to pay for after 3 years of her using them. She's in horrific pain which the patches help, and this is just not right.

Thanks for sharing your experience. More people need to stand up to these dumbasses!!

Love & Blessings,

Snowbrush said...

All Consuming said: "It angers me so much that people in their position harangue those in pain."

Here, it's all about money, but I don't know what the problem is in England where you are, but you could write a darkly funny book about all the screw-ups you've experienced even if you limited yourself to the nearly fatal ones. One would think that a person had to be unusually lazy and incompetent to work in any aspect of medical services.

River said: " there are programs on TV showing people going through garbage, breaking into mailboxes, to get information they can use to stael your identity."

I burn instead of shred, but shredding is just as good. I've actually read that you should use a shredder that reduces the paper to pieces rather than to long skinny strips, but unless a person is really rich, who the heck would go to all the trouble to glue his papers together?! Anyway, these shows provide excellent information in as far as they go, but they often fail to so much as mention that most people who steal your identity are people whom you've entrusted with the information that they used to steal it. It is simply ridiculous that we are all supposed to trust low paid clerical workers, and a host of other people, with potentially devastating information that they don't need anyway.

RJ, if everyone refused to give this information as you and I did, how long do you think offices would ask for it! As we both know, they don't need it. They put you in danger of having your identity stolen, not just by everyone who works in their office today, but by everyone who will work in their office in the future.

Marion, I have all the narcotics you have (and possibly one or two more) unless you are also on Oxycontin and Fentanyl, and I've NEVER been asked to take a piss test, so I suspect you're being lied to. I've been lied to so much by doctors and their staffs that I no longer even consider it unusual. You go to these people for help, and then what do they do but give you little if any real help (in most cases), and then they add bills and stress to your life, neither of which you can well afford.


i don't know you in real life, so... but given your experience with pain may have toughen you and made you wiser, i assume.
quite pleased to hear you did not comply. more people should get wiser about these matters...
i guess it's a matter of educating them about such things, but that is something you don't hear much about, even though it happens regularly...

so, what your SS#????

nollyposh said...

i agree... Our Super-markets have this stupid 'Rewards card' that people happily use so that their every mouthful is tracked... For what i say? More manipulation? If i had the cash i would have a fully functioning HUGE veggie patch, solar panels and op out of the system as much as i could... So i agree... Yesss sireee! ...Besides i even secretly love lamp light and candles X:-) Maybe i just woke up in the wrong era? X;-) ...AND (Ps) When 'they' (the Medical system) ask me in hosp & at the docs about private insurance that the Government MADE us joined or took it out of our taxes at a higher rate anyway... i say i don't have it... Because otherwise 'they' make me pay for stuff that is free otherwise... Well we pay huge taxes, i figure they strip us enough alreadY! Grrrrrr!

Strayer said...

Good for you, Snow. That's all I can say. Taking a stand like that.

As for the "club cards" now at every store, I get temp ones, using fake phone numbers and names, or I get teh discount using a phone number of someone ahead of me in line, or some random phone number. I have used some interesting false names. And then it's funny when the clerk scans your new card and addresses you by your fake name. It's a giggler! I have addresses like One Bench Path. One Codfish Alley. It's a fun thing.

Strayer said...

Here's another thing, with ID theft, I don't hear stories of businesses paying back customers whose personal information they used and stored carelessly resulting in the customer having their ID stolen. If everyone whose ID is stolen sues the hell out of the company or companies responsible for misguarding their information, things might change.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, so let me understand. By asking your credit card company to wipe the charge from your bill you proved Heidi correct when she said that patients who decline to provide all requested information always leave without paying, because even though you did pay Heidi, you later stopped payment on the payment you paid her?

Snowbrush said...

Ticklebear said: "your experience with pain may have toughen you and made you wiser"

Right now, this morning, I'm just mad because I had to drug the shit out of myself last night in order to sleep at all, and now I'm hungover. Living this way year after year really gets to be a drag. Living with pain has probably made me tougher, but whether it has made me wiser or more compassionate is unknown.

Nollyposh, being independent of "the system" appeals to me too. One thing about having chronic health problems is that you become tied to it. It's degrading and dehumanizing, yet I need what little it offers.

Strayer said: "As for the "club cards" now at every store, I get temp ones, using fake phone numbers and names."

I use a credit card, so I have to give them my real name, but when they do insist that I fill out one of their applications, I just then throw it--and my new card--away as I leave. Mostly though, they give me the discount without a card because I keep giving them false phone numbers until they give up. I typically avoid stores that require cards in favor of stores that don't because I don't want to support the former in any way. I'm considering making up a whole list of false information for when I do have to go to such places.

Places that want your birthday and SS# are the only places that put you at real risk though. It's too late to put a false birthdate in my medical records, but since no one has my SS#, I could make one of those up. The problem is that I would appear to be playing along with the disrespect for my welfare that is inherent in requiring that I subject myself to the risk of identity theft by everyone who works in an office or ever will work in an office. Store cards are not dangerous, but I've thrown away dozens of new cards and blank applications. However, it's cleaner to simply avoid stores that require them. I do make an exception with Costco, but Costco makes membership meaningful, plus I don't need a receipt when I return something. So, it's not so much that I reject store cards on principal as it is that most of stores that require them don't give me anything in return for helping them with their marketing. When I can get far better prices at Winco without a card, why the heck should I carry one for Albertsons?

Strayer said: "If everyone whose ID is stolen sues the hell out of the company or companies responsible for misguarding their information, things might change."

In cases where companies obtain superfluous and risky information (like this doctor) or don't make every effort to safeguard the information they do gather, I would agree completely.

Rhymes said: "By asking your credit card company to wipe the charge from your bill you proved Heidi correct when she said that patients who decline to provide all requested information always leave without paying."

Huh? Insurance will pay 80%, and I will pay the remaining 20%. I never stiff anyone, Rhymes. How come you don't know that? I can't imagine that I've failed so miserably in giving you a sense of who I am. Of course, I must be wrong about that. Oh well.

Lee Johnson said...

I know this is a good reminder for me, as I'm too willing to give out information. It's only going to get worse for the next generation. When you grow up with Facebook and Twitter, the whole concept of "privacy" may be foreign to you.

As for store cards, I prefer stores that are card-free, but all of our nearby grocery stories require a card. We can't justify the drive to avoid them.

So, I suppose you don't send in your warranty cards either? Shocking! You know, without knowing your average yearly income they aren't going to be able to properly service that washing machine.

Snowbrush said...

Lee said: "When you grow up with Facebook and Twitter, the whole concept of "privacy" may be foreign to you."

I suppose, but then I also hear frequent warnings about how cops, employers, and insurance companies, spend a lot of time on them too just to see what everyone is up to. Of course, they probably spend time on Blogger too, but I'm not worried about them, although I do avoid putting things that can get me into trouble in other ways by other sorts of people. For example, I'm sorry to say that won't be letting you all know exactly when I plan to have surgery, go to a funeral, or be out of town.

Lee said: "I suppose you don't send in your warranty cards either?"

Sometimes, but I gave up surveys (whether on warranty cards or over the phone). You're not required to do them in order to register a product.

Just remember, if someone has your name, your SS#, and your birthday, he can steal your identity, so it's a bit much to be asked to trust every employee--present and future--in a large office. You can also ask companies that require you to use a SS# to assign you an alternate ID#.

Mim said...

I am completely with you on this Snow. I wouldn't have given my SS number either. Here in MA our SS number was mandatory on our drivers license until just about 5 years ago. This doctor sounds like a suspicious type of person - did she help you at all?

RNSANE said...

Honestly, Snow, I've never thought about declining to give my social security number to doctors but, from now on, believe me, I will!
Good for you for refusing. They certainly didn't like it!

rhymeswithplague said...

Hey, Snow, you misread me, I think. I wasn't trying to be critical; I was just asking a question. And now I'm even more confused. You say, "I will pay the remaining 20%. I never stiff anyone." But what is that next-to-last sentence in the post: "I have also asked the credit card company to wipe the [Heidi's] charge from my bill." Are you paying the scalawags or not? (Not that it's any of my business, of course.) But as I say, now I'm even more confused.

rhymeswithplague said...

The thought I'm obviously not getting across is, if you pay at the office and then later ask the credit card company to wipe the charge from your bill, then paying at the office really didn't count....

I guess I have kicked this dead horse long enough. We remain friends, I hope.

kj said...

i don't know how you kept your cool. i don't think i could have. i fight these battles too. i dislike being mislead or lied to, and brissle at 'power over'.

thank you snow on behalf of the rest of us.


Kert said...

That is scary! Liars and deceitful people are the ones who should be burned in the stake. It's just.

Snowbrush said...

Rhymes said: "if you pay at the office and then later ask the credit card company to wipe the charge from your bill, then paying at the office really didn't count....We remain friends, I hope."

This doctor will get paid in the same way that every other doctor I've ever had got paid. My fear was that, having been unconscionably by her people already, they might not reimburse me when they were paid a second time by the insurance company, and I didn't want to have to go through the process of forcing them to do so.

Of course, we're still friends. I had rather been concerned about the same thing from your direction though. I think it might have been something of a challenge to you to be my friend despite my atheism, but I think you came to recognize that being an atheist is as much a matter off integrity for me as being a Christian is for you. Being friends with a deadbeat might have presented a greater challenge--as it would have for me if I thought such a thing about you. I even think less of people who copy music illegally because it's no less stealing than if they walked into a store and hid a CD in their shirt. Likewise, not paying ones bills is stealing unless there is something inherently unfair about the bill. Personally, I think there is something inherently unfair about ALL doctors' bills because they're so outrageously high, yet you might disagree, and it is true that I pay them.

Kert said: "Liars and deceitful people are the ones who should be burned in the stake."

Well, I'm pretty much a situational ethicist, but to be lied to for the reason that I was lied to made me lose complete respect for that liar, partly because the lie was so unnecessary and partly because it came from someone whom I had gone to for help, which made it a betrayal of trust.

KJ said: "i don't know how you kept your cool."

I had no good choice, KJ. I only wish that I didn't have to work so hard to maintain my cool, because that would enable me to deal more effectively with difficult situations in which rational thought and argument is necessary. To lose my cool completely would have made me even less able to deal with the problem because all of my energy would have been gone into waging a personal attack on the person who was creating the problem. To keep my cool totally would have enabled me to do a better job of documenting the lies and to determine whether the doctor herself would have lied in a way that could have been proven--for example, if she had agreed with Heidi that the government requires me to turn over my SS#. Had I gotten her on record as saying that, I could have filed a complain with the state medical board. Instead, I only have her down as saying that EVERY patient who doesn't give ALL required information walks out without paying, and there's no way I could positively disprove that.

Pearl said...

You and I, sir, are in wild agreement. And good for you and THANK YOU for sticking to your guns.

I plan on doing the same.


Robert the Skeptic said...

A buddy of mine was asked for his SS# when we wanted to set up an account at a video rental store. He refused. I don't know how, but our phone company has our SS# and asks for it when when access our account.

People think it is a "universal ID number". When the police stop you they ask you for your SS#. You are not required to give it to them. As you say, most people are bluffed into giving it out, I know I have been.

Snowbrush said...

Pearl, I'm glad you're with me here. What I find about many things in life is that I do better when I decide how I stand prior to actually having to make a stand. I also know that I'm a thousand times more vulnerable when I'm scared and hurting, so it's especially important to get my act together before I ever walk into a doctor's office.

Robert, I've never had a cop ask for my SS# or even heard of anyone who had, so I don't know what that's about or even why a cop would have access to your SS#. My SS card states: "Not to be used for identification purposes," but, of course, we've gone more and more toward just that.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. to Robert. Not only do video stores want your SS#, but Dish Network does too. I probably wouldn't have paid for Dish Network anyway, but when I called to check out a special they were having, and they told me about the SS# requirement, there was no way in hell I was to going to sign up even if I had really, really wanted to do so. It's blatantly contemptuous of your customers' welfare to require such information when the odds of you needing it are so slim, whereas the effects to them if one of your employees should steal it, or someone taps into your computer is so disastrous.

Joe Todd said...

Snow good for you. Sure made me smile this am. I simply don't like doctors and hospitals. I won't say nurses because you and I are both marries to nurses. LOL . Haven't been around much this winter weather really gets me down.

Eric W. Trant said...

I worked at Blockbuster Video all through college. This was the early 1990s.

Customers had to fill out a paper form that we later entered into the computer with all sorts of information on it, including SS#, a credit card, address, DOB, everything.

Just to rent movies.

I remember thinking how easy it would be to steal a stack of those printouts.

So much easier, now. I just got an email that the authorities in my neighborhood issued an alert for fake credit card readers on local gas pumps.

- Eric

Ann O'Dyne said...

More power to you dear Snowbrush.
Don't let them grind you down.
Someone very close to me has just done house-sitting for a doctor, in a small regional city. His overflowing wastepaper basket, when emptied into the trashcan, had a printout of all his patients that day, including all their meds and needs. My friend knew none of these people, so their privacy was not really invaded, but friend wondered if their own details were floating around where anybody could see them.
ID and Credit credibility must be protected viciously by everyone.
keep it up.

Lydia said...

You crack me up! You also enlighten me, since I am one of those compliant idiots sitting out in the waiting room. Jeez, this was a wake-up call.

dana said...

If you had no SS# and was living in the US illegally, I doubt if they could have legally refused you treatment. If they had, there'd be 8 busloads of protestors on their way to your city.

Snowbrush said...

March 30 update: After demanding that I pay the FULL COST of the visit upfront, Heidi turned around and billed insurance for twice that amount. I went ballistic, and today she refunded ALL of the money I paid in the apparent hope of getting me off her back. My insurance company will still pay through the nose, but that’s by their choice not mine.