My apologies for using the words “government” and “work” both in the same title. I suppose such oxymorons should be avoided.
As caregiver for my ninety-plus year-old mother, it’s my job to collect her income and pay her bills. This includes, of course, seeing to the accuracy of both and trying to keep any of it from flying out the window.
Recently, Social Security sent out its notices of the amounts of next year’s benefits and deductions. Catching a fifteen-dollar overcharge in the amount they will be taking out for Medicare Part B, I endeavored to straighten out the error.
The notice included an 800 number to call, so I dialed it. Naturally, a computer answered. It asked me to state the nature of my call, so I did. The computer, in all of its wisdom, then connected me with a totally irrelevant recording which spent some five minutes giving me information for which I had no use.
Finally exhausted of all of its information, the machine then asked me the zip code of the beneficiary I was calling about. When I divulged that, it searched itself for a while and then gave me a phone number for my local Social Security office, along with its hours of operation.
That number was also attended by a machine, which asked me several questions and then put me on hold. After a few minutes of blasting me with more information I neither sought nor needed, this device hung up on me. I redialed the number only to be put through the same procedure again, once more terminating in a disconnect by the apparatus.
After a few choice words which were undoubtedly heard by drivers a block away on Interstate 20, I dialed the original 800 number once again. On this call I was a little smarter. Each time the computerized voice asked me the nature of my call, I merely said representative. About the fifth or sixth time I repeated that, it figured out that I wanted to speak to a human being. The voice then told me it would connect me with the next available agent but that the wait would be approximately ten minutes.
Before connecting me, however, the contraption had several questions to ask. It did not say whether to answer them for myself, as the caller, or for my mother, the beneficiary I was calling about. I kept asking whose information it wanted, and it kept saying, “I didn’t understand your answer. We’ll skip that question.”
Finally satisfied with my non-answers, the mechanism decided to put me on hold for an agent.
The entire time I held for this person, the computerized voice whined about how much faster it would be for me to use its automated system. Well, not the entire time. It alternated this plea with bits of information which had nothing to do with my problem.
When a live voice came on the line, I jumped in surprise. Yes, Virginia, there is a human being at the Social Security call center. He was even polite.
When I made the mistake of telling the guy I was calling on behalf of my mother, whose business I take care of under a power of attorney, he told me he could not give me any information. I assured him I only sought an answer to a simple question, but that made no difference. If Mother was not on the line to tell him it was okay to talk to me, he couldn’t answer anything.
When I pointed out that I had her power of attorney, he told me they do not recognize such documents. The only way I could be authorized to deal with them for her would be to become her collector of benefits.
“You mean she could be perfectly lucid and execute a power of attorney, and then have something happen that destroyed her ability to reason and/or communicate, and there would be no way for me to deal with your agency on her behalf?”
“Oh, no. She doesn’t need to be involved in getting you appointed as collector of benefits. You just need to go to the local office—and wait for several hours to see someone—and fill out an application form, giving them the name of her doctor.”
Now I understand. They protect her against her duly appointed guardian when he seeks to rectify a mistake in her account. But anybody who has her social security number and the name of a purported doctor can come in, fill out a form and get her benefits paid to him or her in the future. This kind of safeguard makes me feel warm all over. I’ll probably sleep a lot better tonight.
Tomorrow, I’ll get my wife––or the neighbor’s granddaughter or someone else with a female voice––to sit beside me when I dial their call center again. When a human comes on the line, my female accomplice can identify herself as my mother and authorize the person to talk to me. Then, I can get my question answered . . . maybe.
Ø What sort of experiences have you had with incompetent government employees or insane government procedures?
Ø How did you handle them?