Conversation with hospital flunky

(Telephone rings)

ME:  Hello?

HOSPITAL FLUNKY:  Hello.  This call is for Mr. Peter Grant.

ME:  Speaking.

FLUNKY:  Ah, good afternoon.  I’m calling to confirm the billing details for your procedure on (date).

ME:  Go ahead.

FLUNKY:  The insurance cost for the procedure will be $XXXXX, and your 15% deductible for that procedure will be $YYYY.  Will you please provide a credit card number for your payment?

ME:  Hold on a moment.  That’s not a 15% deductible – it’s more like 22%.

FLUNKY:  The computer says that’s your deductible, sir.

ME:  Tell the computer to recalculate.  Your numbers are wrong.

FLUNKY:  But… the computer doesn’t make a mistake, sir!

ME:  This one has.  Get a calculator and work it out for yourself.

FLUNKY:  Ah… hold for a moment, please, sir.

(Sound of muzak in the background until the flunky returns.)

FLUNKY:  Ah… sir, I’ll have to go back to the billing department and ask them to review this charge.

ME:  I should think so!  [Mentally translates to self:  No s***, Sherlock!]

FLUNKY:  Ah… thank you, and goodbye.

Dammit, don’t they teach mental arithmetic in schools any more?  When I was growing up, any twelve-year-old could have spotted that kind of error with his eyes closed!


EDITED TO ADD: Aesop had his own run-in with the arithmetically challenged, on the same day. Go read.


  1. Common core math doesn't teach math skills. It teaches complicated Venn diagrams that have no bearing on how to add 2+2 and make it equal 4 or subtracting 9 from 11 and get 2 or order of operations.

    My kids were in high school before they learned any new math from the skills we taught them while they were being home-schooled. They started public school in the seventh grade. My kids can count change back, too. They know all fifty states and their capitals, major rivers, mountain ranges, oceans, and can place most countries in the right places on a world map. We also expanded what they were being taught in American History and Civics class to include information that was conspicuously not being presented.

    I'll stop here, cause I feel a rant coming on.

  2. "In exchange for marking this bill paid in full, I won't hire an attorney and subpoena the hospitals last six months of billing to see if this is a standard over-billing practice, and thus worthy of a class action suit".

  3. Not to mention which it could have been anyone on the other end of the line.
    They send a bill or they don't get paid.

  4. Hospital billing departments are notoriously FUBAR, I knew a man attending Johns Hopkins who had needed a hospital stay a couple of years before I met him. The Hospital would re-bill him for sums he had already, provably, paid…pretty much on a quarterly basis. He eventually sued, and got a sum that permitted him to pay for several semesters of college.

    Now, as to WHY they are FUBAR, I have no idea. But I would be unsurprised to learn that it has something to do with labyrinthian health-care and insurance regulations.

  5. @Judy,

    The great plague of the Public School Systems is not, as many aver, Leftist indoctrination (though that is dreadful, too) but the idea that "Learning should be fun" of perhaps I should type it as "Learning should be FUN!".

    Having an education is fun; it enormously expands one's world. Acquiring an education is often tiresome in the extreme, especially when dealing with basics. Progressive Education insists on trying to circumvent this, and usually manages to make learning BOTH tiresome and (in any practical sense) impossible.

  6. You made the (probably false) assumption that the error wasn't intentional, and was an error. I caught a hotel doing this with room service charges. When I brought it to the GM's attention, by saying "Someone in your billing department is stealing" she turned to the other person behind the desk and asked what she thought. She thought I should have all my meals for the 3 weeks comp'd and I should get out of there before someone who wasn't in on the scam found out….

    It's easier to steal than earn.


  7. Learning can be fun, but you have to remember the learning has to be there.

    I can still do most basic arithmetic in my head, although I prefer to use a pencil and paper if it's important. Old habits die hard.

  8. It's altogether too easy to simply write this kind of dummy-monkey crap off as "New Math" In Action and/or as deliberate perfidy to rip you off if the medical-services billing department can slide it by you, the (they hope) sucker. Most likely, though, is the simple fact that the degree and extent of innumeracy "taught" in the U.S. public (and, in some cases, private) educational systems over the past 30 to 40 years – in some locales, for even substantially longer than that – runs neck-and-neck with the depth and extent of the essential-illiteracy that has become ever more apparent in everyday-life "examples" like this one…

    I used to imagine that the advent of computerization being infused thoroughly in the world of business might help correct some of this kind of crap; the more fool, I. Quite to the contrary; the end-result has been (as here) to make it many times more likely that this pass-the-stupidity-along crap has become "routine" – since, as everyone knows, "the computer system is always right".

    Completely neglecting to take into account that "Garbage In, Garbage Out" rules over the World Of Computerization entirely…There's no need to blame "New Math", when the old math will work just as readily – provided most of the people involved have no useful facility with any kind of math at all!

  9. Any computer is a very stupid, autistic device. It does exactly what it was told to do, and nothing more. Flunky admitted to being second-order idiot, by doing exactly what an autistic, stupid device told Flunky to do. It's much easier to train children to push buttons and read numbers back, than teach mathematics, ratios, and other hard stuff. Fault lies with the parents and two generations of elementary school babysitters, er, "teachers."

    "Smart weapons" have the exact same conditions of stupid and autism, which should fill your readers with exuberant optimism 🙂

    1. Medical software is notoriously bad. From my wife's experiences with several of them over the years, there's no good one out there, just the least awful.

  10. This kind of thing isn't new. About 45 years ago I bought a new carpet. The shop was offering credit, so being snerky and knowing how much that would cost them in commission I asked for a 10% discount for cash. The salesman couldn't work out what a 10% discount would be.

  11. Hey Peter;

    The insurance usually have them knock some of the amount for "Reasonable and customary" so the hospital tries to make it up on you. You know that they have to cover all those indigent patients you know…

  12. To be fair, at least part of the problem was probably that said Flunky was running on automatic (assuming it wasn't a deliberate inflation, which is possible). Mr Flunky likely makes upwards of a 100 or more such phone calls a day. If he stopped to actually check each one it'd slow him down, and you can bet his manager'd be on his ass for that, so he runs on automatic just making phone calls and reading the data infront of him.

    Its the same problem I see regularly griped about when the computers suddenly stop working and the cashier can't figure out how to make change. Yes, its entirely possible that said cashier has never been taught how to make change in their head. However I've been in that situation, and I can tell you that by the time you've rung up your 100th or transaction of the morning your brain is trying hard to shut down and let you run on automatic. And when what you're expecting to happen doesn't your brain tries to short circuit. The cashiers who blink at the computer and keep going on manual are the ones who've had it happen enough times that they've learned how to change gears and engage. Or else managed to not turn off their brain, but your average teenager is better at turning off their brain than keeping it engaged anyway.

    Mind, I'm not saying that running on automatic is a good thing, but its a common human failing. Hopefully said Flunky has learned enough from this to pay at least a BIT more attention to the numbers presented. But probly not, since most people probly just pay without doing the math themselves.

  13. Yes its definitely an issue even with "well educated" folks. My younger daughter recently graduated from an engineering school here in Massachusetts (no NOT that one) as a Mechanical Engineer. She found two things to her advantage 1) I taught her how to estimate (having learned tricks from my Mom a bookeeper all her life). Her mother, a chemistry professor had stressed keeping the units in the calculations and canceling them as you went (AKA Dimensional analysis). If you don't come out with the right units at the end you clearly screwed the pooch somewhere in the middle. 95% of her peers had issues with this. They could do flawless differential equations, but verifying that their answer was at least of the right order of magnitude often evaded them. Needless to say they learned (or took courses a second time until they did 🙂 ). I think much of this comes from that fact that actually using the math and needing real answers is almost totally deemphasized id modern pedagogy. Practice and repetition have a bad name, but both sides of the coin are needed for actual learning. For example I can know everything about scales and intervals in music but if I don't actually sit and practice them on an instrument I gain nothing.

  14. Many years ago youngest son was getting frisky in a hammock swing I put in his bedroom, flew out of it and impacted a metal bracket on his bunk bed causing a puncture wound on his ankle. After business hours so we hauled him to the ER for treatment, made sure no bones were broken, clean and bandage the wound, and a tetanus shot. Just one of many such trips to the ER, he was that sort of kid.
    What's interesting is the after action insurance report. Bill was covered under our Blue Cross, but back then we got an itemized billing as a courtesy copy. I was quite surprised to see that in addition to expected services the hospital was also charging us for a Pap smear and a Barium enema. Now no way they did a Pap on a twelve year old boy, and I guarantee if they tried to give Dan a Barium enema the entire hospital would have heard about it immediately.
    I did notify Blue Cross. They thanked me for the information, but from the conversation we had I figure they just shrugged it off.
    The incident stuck with me and went a long way towards my understanding of how hospital ERs cover the costs associated with indigent no pays.

  15. One of the advantages of slide rules over calculators is that, since a slide rule only gave digits, and not orders of magnitude, it forced you to think about the problem enough to know where to put the decimal point. So you could spot whole classes of mistakes when the order of magnitude is wrong when you did what you thought were the right calculations.

    As for computers always being right — the (I believe) definitive story on that was written about half a century ago — "Computers Don't Argue", by Gordon R. Dickson (Analog, Sept 1965, and reprinted often). It's probably online someplace, as well — but it's still in print in Baen's collection, If This Goes Wrong…, which came out two years ago.

  16. Part of the problem is many folks today don't bother to learn anything because they can just go "Google" it. They have a smart phone which has a calculator etc.

    When I was in middle school I somehow managed to get my hands on an electronic calculator. They were spendy in the day. I took it to school with me, The teacher was not at all onboard with that and I was told to take it home and never bring it back to school.

    At first I was kinda butthurt about it. But not long afterwards I understood why. You need to learn how to get to the same answer as the calculator would give you.

    I'm sure we've all been in the situation where you've vapor-locked a cashier with oddball cash numbers. Like giving a cashier $5.50 cents on a $4.50 item so you can get a whole dollar back.

    These days I work with 3D printers and home shop machining. I do a lot of math in my head. metric to US conversions, counting how much to turn a dial for depth of cut etc.

    We may be seeing the front edge of idiocracy.

  17. There were four of us at the class table during the Medical Dosage Calculations review.

    The professor gave us a problem in which you had to divide 100 by 3.

    Everyone but me pulled out their calculators.

    But don't worry – your nurses will totally calculate your dosage correctly! No problem!

  18. Another idea: I'm fairly good at doing math by hand. But these days I let the Excel spreadsheet do most of my math. When I first put together a spreadsheet, I meticulously check that the math is good. But the 16th time I use the spreadsheet, I am not near as meticulous. The spreadsheet has always given me good numbers. I change the inputs to what I need and look to see what the output is.

    Sometimes I miss mistakes this way because there was an erroneous input I missed or the numbers don't add up (though they should since nothing has changed so far as I can tell!) but I trust the spreadsheet so I'm not doing it by hand.

    This is why, in our office, we have two eyes on every piece of financial before it goes out. To give two chances for mistakes to be caught.

    And for a while after such a mistake, I'll go back to trying to eyeball what magnitude I think the total should be. But the spreadsheet works and I find no mistakes, and there is a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time… so I go back to trusting the spreadsheet.

  19. I just got a bill for "Hospital Services" for $68. Date of these "services"? July 2014.

    I called and asked what this was about but nobody could tell me. So, I told them they could whistle for the money, as I wasn't going to pay something that old and for something they didn't even know what it was for.

    I had paid my deductible for that time frame, and the insurance company had paid their obligation.

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