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March 12, 2009

Why are you letting him kick you around?

March 12. Day 255.

Newsflash: "Everything is negotiable."

This story talks about how patients can bargain down medical bills. First line: "When money is tight, everything is negotiable — including your health care bills." Damn straight!

It's a perfect link to set up what I asked for today.

I was working in a cafe when I ran into an acquaintance. She works in a different cafe, and we were always friendly when we saw each other. So I invited her to sit with me and we ended up talking. She told me about her used car, which is falling apart -- two weeks she bought it. Now her boyfriend is trying to sort everything out and return the car.

The dealer won't take it back, and will only pay for half of part of the repairs.

"Why are you letting the dealer set the terms?" I asked.

"I don't know. Because... it's too convoluted."

"Why about lemon laws?"

"I'm sure he's [boyfriend] looked into all that."

"Why don't you at least try to negotiate with him?"

"I don't think we can. He said he won't take it back."

"Well, if you wanted, maybe I could try talking -- I mean, maybe having a third party there, who could help you stop getting pushed around or --"

"It's okay. My boyfriend is taking care of it."

I really wanted to tell her about the blog -- and I've told people before, if it seemed they might be interested or I was feeling particularly blabby -- but this seemed a little preachy, especially since I'd already tried to give her advice and she wasn't interested. "I have this blog where I talk about asking and negotiating. Maybe you can find some useful info there." Nah.

As she ran her hands through her hair, this girl told me how stressed she was about the situation -- it was clear from her voice, her posture. Stress was eating her inside out. But still, she didn't ask.

I'm not criticizing her. First, I don't have the whole picture and it's possible they really are doing everything they can -- and know it.

But is also possible they're selling themselves short. Millions of people do just that, after all. People who get medical bills, confusing insurance claims, and don't ask.

They're scared. They're exhausted by work, life, the fear of futility. They don't know where to start. They don't even know they can negotiate. They don't think they're entitled. And they're not just women. They're Americans, and from every other country on this planet, mired in this opaque system of ours, or opaque systems of their own...

But what if they opened their mouths and asked. Once per billing cycle. Once per billing account. How much money could we save collectively, if everyone tackled one bill, one account and bargained it down?
Castigated excuses and rationalizations and demanded a break?

Gained: Nothing. Tried to help. Failed. Case closed.
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