“Does your son know you are calling about him?”
In all the years I’ve had to make phone calls on Ronan’s behalf, I’ve never been asked that question before. I thought maybe I’d jokingly ask Ronan, who was on his way to use the bathroom, if it was okay for me to talk about him. But, my 17-year old non-verbal child with regressive autism doesn’t understand the type of phone call I was making, so I opted to let him be. Ronan, even if he doesn’t realize it, relies on me to call people when we run into problems related to his medical care. That includes dealing with a major problem, like the one that prompted this particular phone call.
Unsure of why this insurance representative was asking me that question the way she was, I slowly replied, “Yes...”
She continued curtly, “And are you authorized to speak for your son?”
“Of course I am,” I stated proudly. “I’m his mother.”
I actually smiled while saying that.
Seconds later I had to repeat myself, “I’m his mother!” But that time, I said it in a perturbed voice. I also added, “Are you kidding me?” when I said it. The response I got was silence. The representative had just told me I could not ask any further questions or get any details about my son or his plan. I asked the representative to look at her screen again and tell me if it wasn’t me, his mother, then who is authorized to speak to them? Who??
“I can’t tell you that because you are not allowed to know that information.”
I was not polite in my response and could only blurt out, “You’re not kidding me, are you?!”
I never yell at people like that, but this gal got an earful from me. What information she would divulge about Ronan was absolutely and completely wrong. I told her that and then asked her politely to please update the information. Because it was critical that I get the information she had at her fingertips, I politely said that I would be happy to give her the correct information if she would allow. She would not because “Ma’am, you are NOT authorized.” I immediately asked to speak to a manager. No. A supervisor? No. A senior member of the team. NO. Sometimes it helps to bypass the first tier of representatives. Over the years, I’ve learned that they can only do so much. I was not allowed to speak to anyone in that first tier or higher though “because our system doesn’t recognize you.”
I’m not sure why, but she was fuming when she said that.
I was, too.
I don’t think her anger was warranted.
Mine, on the other hand, was. I was dealing with a pretty big issue already and now had an angsty customer service rep giving me attitude telling me that I didn’t exist. I wish I’d had our old house phone. Hanging up and slamming a cordless phone down doesn’t have the same effect as those old rotary phones do.
Before I hung up, I did manage to get another phone number from the woman to try. “Maybe they will help you.” This was already day 2 of trying to fix a problem that never should’ve happened, so I picked up the phone and tried again. The next call would be no better.
Nor would the other 10 I made. In fact, with every call, text and email I sent about the insurance and benefits issue, the more problems I discovered. One solution could work, but it would only be temporary and would come with a hefty price tag. Even worse, I’d soon learn, the benefit that had been promised, and that has always been covered, is not just out of reach at the moment—it’s going away.
Could that first disgruntled employee have shared that bit of news with me hours earlier?
Could she or any of the several other people I later tried to talk to have offered that important piece of information with me before I cried my eyes out in front of one of the reps I was able to find in person?
Could anyone have offered just a tiny bit of compassionate about this situation and the ramifications we’ll feel if Ronan permanently loses a promised benefit that has, for over a year, been documented as medically necessary?
In the hours I spent on the phone last week, which went well into Friday evening, only a few people were polite. The one that’s been the most helpful is the one without a big job title. Those with more experience were unhelpful. Those who had the power to override the system were unkind and the least respectful. This person was the opposite. She was attentive, kind, and supportive. She could only do so much, but thankfully, in her system, I was authorized to speak for Ronan. Better than that, she could share with me what she saw on her end. After several back-and-forth messages, she shared, You have enough on your plate with having a special needs child…you shouldn’t have to worry about all this.
But I am having to worry about it because other people who could help me did not.
As of this today, the problem we had still needs to be resolved. But I have at least 1 person on board who wants to make sure Ronan gets what he needs. She’s worked overtime, literally, to help us. I won’t know until tomorrow when I can start making phone calls again how the situation will unfold, but it’s nice to have someone willing to go above and beyond what’s expected of them. If other people I’d spoken to last week shared that same work ethic, I believe I’d be going in next week feeling a lot better than I do. Right now, I’m anxious. But I won’t give up trying to help Ronan. Authorized or not, he needs me to speak for him.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.