Archive for October, 2008

David and the Insurance Goliath


You would think a company like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida has its act together. Think again. Dealing with this company’s bureaucratic minions is a nightmare and a slapstick comedy rolled into one.

My eighty-six year old mother needed to convert her supplemental health insurance to another carrier. Since Medicare provides her primary coverage, I thought switching the supplemental would be no big deal. Just to make sure we got it right, I enlisted the help of an insurance agent referred to us by Blue Cross.

The fun began when my mother received a letter from Blue Cross denying coverage due to her application arriving outside of the annual enrollment period. The agent explained without apology that she was apparently confused about the application period. Three subsequent calls to this agent netted zero results. I was on my own in trying to resolve the problem — David vesus Goliath.

I called the 800 number listed in the rejection letter. The Blue Cross telephone representative promptly told me they could not help me. I had to call the Jacksonville office. “Where, by chance, am I calling?” I inquired. “The Sales Department,” the rep replied. “Aren’t you in Jacksonville?” I wanted to know. “No. You’ll have to call them tomorrow. They’re closed for the day now.” The telephone rep gave me the local number for the Jacksonville office. I had to ask for the toll-free number.I called the Jacksonville office the following morning. The experience turned into a multi-call ordeal for a number of reasons. Each time I called, the operator routed me to the wrong department. After copious delays, I finally reached someone who could help me. Each telephone rep gave me a different answer before putting me on hold for what seemed like forever.

I kept hanging up and calling again in the hopes of finding someone who actually knew what they were doing.The first telephone rep told me Blue Cross rejected the application because my mother’s supplemental insurance policy had lapsed. I told the rep, a nice woman by the name of Yvonne, that my mother’s policy was still very much alive and kicking. Yvonne then told me all we needed was the current policy number to resolve the matter. Great, I thought. I’ll just call my mother, get the policy number, and call sweet Yvonne back. Finally, we were getting somewhere.

Ten minutes later, I called Yvonne’s extension. “The line is busy,” the operator informed me. “Would you like to speak to someone else?” “No,” I replied. “Yvonne understands my situation.” The operator told me I had reached a call center where the reps take calls back to back. In other words, my chances of reaching Yvonne again were on a par with winning the Florida Lottery.

I was not going to ask if the call center existed within the confines of the Jacksonville office. I did not want to find out that the telephone reps who held my mother’s health insurance future in their hands were quasi-employees, or worse, independent contractors who cared exclusively about their hourly wage.I spoke to the next person, and the next one, until I reached David, my namesake, who seemed to fathom the arcane rules and closely guarded secrets governing the Blue Cross insurance application process.

David convinced me that we had to resubmit the application for insurance during the official enrollment period. I then discovered during the ensuing conversation that the application mailed with the rejection letter was misprinted. David promised to mail a corrected application form.I next asked David when Blue Cross intended to refund the first month’s payment mailed with the original application. David advised me to speak to my agent. I reminded David that I was speaking to him due to my agent’s total and complete incompetence, not to mention her unrepentant attitude.

After more haggling, David agreed to look into the refund. Five minutes passed during which I listened to irritating music interspersed with promotional messages aimed at motivating me to use more impersonal and less costly means of contacting Blue Cross to resolve my problems. I was about to hang up when David came back to advise me the refund would be mailed within two weeks. I asked him to fax a copy of the new application to me. He eagerly promised to do so. The fax never arrived.

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Who Is Responsible For The Iraqi War Refugees?


Smart, observant children can learn from the mistakes of their parents. In the case of Iraq, it is the child ignoring the wisdom of the parent.

One can imagine George Herbert Bush’s military advisors telling him not to go after Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. Overthrowing Hussein, the advisors explain to the erstwhile president, will create a power vacuum and a country splintered by bloody civil war. In addition, the advisors remind the president that the United Nations has not issued a mandate allowing military forces on the ground to topple the Hussein government. George Herbert Bush decided to listen to his advisors and obey the will of the international community. It was not a popular decision at the time.

In retrospect, it is obvious to even a casual observer that our incumbent president was itching to finish what his father started. George W. Bush figured he could secure his place in history by exporting democracy to Iraq with an iron fist. The results have been catastrophic for the Iraqi people and the citizens of the United States.

Here are the simple facts. Despite opposition from international and domestic leaders, President Bush convinced enough people in government to green light the invasion of Iraq. The military intelligence used as a pretext for the invasion turned out to be bogus. Five years later, the war rages on. Thousands of U.S. Military personnel have died or have received serious, life-changing injuries. Thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens have needlessly lost their lives or suffered serious wounds. More than five million Iraqi refugees have lost their homes, jobs, and entire way of life.

No one in the United States government wants to take responsibility for this destruction. It is now the responsibility of the people in this country to do the right thing.

Nothing speaks more eloquently about the suffering the war in Iraq has caused than the stories of the refugees themselves. Kareem, a history professor, suffered disfiguring wounds to his face when American airplanes bombed the University where he teaches. Forty-five students and teachers died when the second floor of the building collapsed into the first floor. More than a hundred people reported injuries from the attack.

“The Americans are a peaceful and honest people,” Kareem says. “That’s what I’ve seen through the television. They refused the war and this war has been destructive to both countries…For the last four years, it has gone from bad to worse.”

Ahmad worked as a loyal employee of the US Coalition Forces in Iraq. He bonded with the Marines he worked with as a translator and cultural liaison. He felt as if the Marines had become his family. After a Shiite militia murdered his fellow translator and friend, Ahmad fled the country in fear for his own life.

This story is all too familiar to seven thousand other young Iraqis who worked faithfully in official capacities for U.S. troops in Iraq, mostly as translators and cultural advisors. Insurgent factions have marked these young Iraqis for death. The United States Government refuses to grant visas or political asylum to these former employees.

Hiba is a young woman who fled Iraq with her family a few months after the war began. Jordan’s government denied asylum to this family of seven. They spent four years living in a tent in Ruwayshed, a refugee camp on the border of Iraq and Jordan.

Unfortunately, Hiba’s story is similar to the experience of a majority of Iraqi refugees. Syria, Lebanon and Jordan routinely deny access or status to homeless families and refugees fleeing from religious or political persecution from within their own country. There is no government infrastructure or private sector relief programs established in bordering countries to deal with the refugee crisis. The situation is analogous to the Jewish refugee crisis after World War II when more than four million people lost their homes and way of life in the Holocaust.

These are but a handful of the refugees stories. There are thousands of stories, many too horrible and brutal to imagine. We are the only source of help the Iraqi refugees can call on at this time. “The List,” an independent citizen action group, helps Iraqis living under the threat of death to find safe haven outside of the country. UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, urgently needs funding. This agency relies on private contributions for over 95% of its budget. To find out how you can support organizations like these, please visit http://www.iraqirefugeestories.org/

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The Beloved


I see a woman shopping in a shoe department
She is long and lean, quite beautiful
and unmindful of my lustful stare
She is like so many women
I desperately want to make love to

I am a fool, of course
because what I want can never be satisfied by any woman
Even the most beautiful woman in the world
cannot quench the flame that burns within me

I often forget
what I truly want
You, my beloved

Beyond the fantasies and small desires
conjured by the deceitful magician
Mind brandishes multi-colored shrouds
in a deft attempt to lure me away
from where You reside

Your palace is more luxurious, more enchanting
than any abode the world has to offer
Beyond words
Beyond imagination
Beyond the boundaries I call myself

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of You
a flawless diamond
perfection itself
too beautiful for these outer eyes to see
more precious thana hundred Spanish treasure ships
waiting to be discovered

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