Take a number

We like to believe, as the phrase goes, that we’re not “just a number.” And more importantly we don’t want to be treated like we’re “just a number.” I sure feel that way and I bet you do too.

Years ago, before all the initiatives and changes in health care – none of which I aim to debate here – I worked a short time at a temporary job with a health insurance company. It was a miserable place for me. My work was clerical and repetitive, the environment was abysmal, and I think I’d been naive beforehand, because I’d never seen quite so clearly the words “just a number” in action.

This company processed a staggering amount of claims and paperwork. And this was when paperwork was literally paper. Employees had great piles of forms falling all over their desks, some more so than others – things could get fairly sloppy. Papers went missing. And I don’t know where the blame for this lay, but there was a big issue with duplicate claim forms – finding duplicates was part of my job – in that the same claim might have multiple case numbers assigned it, making it appear as different claims. I’m sure that gummed things up.

I had no clue an insurance company worked like this. The volume was dismaying. The work flow was far from polished. And speed was encouraged. It was the handwritten notes intended to motivate employees tacked to the outside of the work station partitions that really got to me:

WE NEED 20,000 CLAIMS PROCESSED BY NOON!!

Geez-o-flip. How depressing is that?? There was no uncertainty here. People were numbers. In a scary way. Sometimes I’d think about the poor person who’d filed a claim and had no idea what went on behind the scenes. Probably better they didn’t know.

9 thoughts on “Take a number

  1. Deb

    I worked for a short time in a hospital billing department, just out of high school. It started as a filing job and somehow something thought I had a knack for some of the clerical aspects/fiddling with the odd insurance form. I sat at a desk in a room with women who seemed to be ancient and wondered why in hell would anyone want to do this job for so long. Later, working in dentistry, again someone decided that I should jump into the spot at the desk that handled insurance…I ran the opposite way and refused adamantly.
    What a horrible job.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I get it; just being good at something isn’t reason enough to do it or do it for years, no matter what anyone else thinks about it. And this particular kind of work is soul-crushing (I think many of us as young women saw the “ancient ladies” in one field or another and swore “Not me!”) I was offered a full-time job by this company since I was “good at it” and I also ran for the hills!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Van, it wouldn’t surprise me now but it was scary to realize/see at the time. I’m afraid that ultimately the people who will stay in, and be attracted to the medical profession, will be those who are comfortable with this approach.

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      1. vanbytheriver

        Oh, I hope not. But, I can see that happening. It’s a different era in medicine, for sure. My own doctor retired at 62…I’m sure there were personal reasons, but he often complained about all the changes he couldn’t accept. They took away his paper files a few years ago… he hated computers.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I don’t know why I still get surprised by such things. I wonder if it’d be better not to know because sick people have no options; it’s not like people can do surgery on themselves or prescribe themselves medications…

      Liked by 1 person

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