Collecting karma

I got a letter from a collection agency representing one of my doctors. One of my many, many doctors. Let’s see, they can open your chest and transplant your heart, they can reattach your arm, they can drill a hole in your head and remove a brain tumor, but they can’t send out a bill in a timely fashion? If the billing department practiced surgery, they’d reattach your heart to your arm and insert brain tumors into your head.

The bill I got was for a frangiomicodebluepulmintisismialrhemstaccardioheumictomy, date of service four years ago. There were absolutely no hints or clues as to what this procedure might have been or what it was for, no explanation for why my insurance didn’t pay for it. More important, did it cure me? Of what? And if it didn’t work, should I still pay the bill?

If anyone but a doctor or a hospital had sent me a bill like that, I’d laugh in their face. First of all, what is a frangiomicodebluepulmintisismialrhemstaccardioheumictomy, and how do I even know I got one? Can’t they figure out a way to say whatever this is in English? I wonder now how many bills I’ve paid over the years for things that they just made up? It took years of arm-twisting to finally get credit card companies and lawyers to write contracts in plain English. And they do. In type so small you can fit 60 pages of it on a micro-dot. If I ever want to smuggle secret documents, I know right where to go. My credit card company. Not that the plain-English contracts did any good; they say exactly what they used to say when they were written in High Lawyer. “In case anything goes wrong, it’s not our fault, it’s yours. Sign this or we’ll come to your house and tease your pets.”

Like the French, doctors have a different word for everything. I remember mine saying, “You’ve had a mild infarction,” and I said, “That’s funny, I thought it felt just like a heart attack.” Why can’t they speak English?

In plain English, a doctor’s bill should say, “For sticking one gloved finger where it didn’t belong – $645.82.”

“For that blood test where they had to poke you four times before they found a vein – $112.82.”

“For taking some blood out of you, mixing it with nuclear waste, then injecting it back into your body to see what your lower frastallicmatzroid looks like – $2367.81.”

“For the guy who analyzes frastallicmatzroid test – $1,744.19.”

“For frastallicmatzroid technician – $1,109.84.”

If my credit card statement had a charge for a frangiomicodebluepulmintisismialrhemstaccardioheumictomy procedure, I’d call their fraud unit in a heartbeat, but if it comes from the doctor’s office, we pay it. But, apparently, there was a bill I didn’t pay. To add insult to injury, they put my account in collection for $60 and change. These were the same people who have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from my insurance company and me over the years. Where’s the note that says, “Thanks, we appreciate all your business. Keep smoking and drinking and eating that junk food you like so much, it’s putting our kids through Harvard Med. Your friends on the crash cart. P.S. Keep the 60 bucks.”? I think I should have been rewarded for being a repeat customer, not penalized. I should have been getting a volume discount. I should have been getting Reward Points. I should be getting a card that says “Spend 10 nights at County General and get the 11th night free!” I spent $600 with my mechanic last year and he sent me a Christmas card. I spent $100,000 at my doctor’s hospital and I get a note from a collection agency.

Thanks, Doc. Hope you never get sick.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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