The Last Time I Worked At Corporate Woods

It was 1989. I had just left FantaCo, the comic book store, after eight and a half years in November 1988. I was pretty burned out.

The time between leaving FantaCo and starting the new job was actually quite rewarding. My friend Nancy Sharlet was dying of cancer, and I got to spend a lot of time with her at the hospital, then when she went home, on the phone, before she died on January 1, 1989.

I started to work at an insurance company in February as a customer service representative. I won’t tell you which one, except that it has a primary color in its name.

The first weeks were OK. It was in a classroom setting, learning about medical prefixes and suffixes, as well as customer service decorum. And, when we finally hit the floor, it wasn’t so bad, at least initially.

Then things started to change. They had what I felt was an adequate software to process dental claims. Yet they changed it to something that I found totally incomprehensible, ordered because somebody’s brother-in-law (or the like) had designed it.

The middle management seemed to like to ride one particular person who was processing claims slower than the rest. I had befriended this woman, and I was not surprised that she left to work in the relative relaxation that was the Postal Service. So they needed someone new to ride, and that was me.

About this time came the great purge. They laid off a few middle managers, but all of the clerks, who were runners for the customer service reps. I was never so disappointed NOT to have been laid off in my life. They ought to have fired the regional manager, who was making $600,000 a year to make bad decisions such as the dental software and this one:

The company wanted to change over to a new medical billing system at the end of the year. A customer service representative could have told them that they ought to process the 1989 claims on the old system, giving people 30 days to get all of those in, then start processing the new (1990) claims on the new system. Instead, they stopped processing claims on the old system on Christmas Eve. The transition took six weeks, rather than the two we were told it would take. The customers wanted to know, not so much about the status of their 1990 claims, as much as their 1989 claims that would help them work on their taxes.

The first call someone makes on a specific claim is handled by the customer service rep. Subsequent calls were placed on the supervisor call queue. By the end of January, about half the calls were supervisor calls. People just wanted to know if we had RECEIVED their claims, but since there were 40,000 envelopes in the basement waiting for this new batch processing system, I couldn’t tell them. I was supposed to tell the customers NOT to refile, but got into trouble when I just couldn’t do that.

Finally, in the beginning of February, the new system went up. However, no information was transferred from the old system to the incompatible new system regarding whether any of the deductible had been met. New claims were processed, often stating that the charge was applied to the already-met deductible. Thus, a whole new flood of irate calls came pouring in.

During this period, I looked out the window one day and saw an ambulance at the building we were about to move into. Then another one. Then a couple more. Then a bus. It turned out something was wrong with the ventilation system in that building and 13 people were taken to the hospital. Fortunately only a couple people were admitted, and those only overnight, as I recall.

But as soon as we made the move to this new building, I gave notice. And, even though I didn’t have a job to go to, I left on March 1, 1990. March 1 was significant for two reasons:
1) it meant that my health insurance would last until the end of April (had I left a day earlier, it would have lapsed at the end of March), and
2) it meant that I would not be working there on my birthday (March 7)

There were 16 people in my training class. By the time I left, 13 months later, only three were still with the company. Coincidence? Sure.

But that’s not the (only) reason I hate our upcoming move to Corporate Woods.
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