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IT’S PRIVATE (re-post from 10/25/11)

Where are you right now? If you’re my friend on Facebook, you might have posted your current location as your status. Or, you might tell the world what you ate for breakfast, which TV shows you watched, what thoughts you have about the new iPhone, or who is driving you crazy at the moment.

But, heaven forbid, you are a parent with a child over the age of 18 who is in college, and/or is in need of medical attention. Suddenly, steel doors slam in your face the moment you try to get any information on your child. It doesn’t matter that you are paying the tuition/health insurance/doctor bills for said child and are currently living in the poorhouse due to the bills for said child. Suddenly, 18-year-olds are full adults. I am not including those in the military or those who are completely paying their way at this stage of their lives. No, I am talking about the majority of 18-year-olds who are still willingly being supported by Mom and Dad because these days, it would be nearly impossible for them to pay their way on $7.50 an hour when most colleges cost about 10 times more than they did when I went to school (and NO, I won’t say when that was) – and wages certainly haven’t kept up with that kind of inflation.

You may have gone with your child to all college orientations, parent weekends and conferences. But, unless your child signs off that you can find out their grades, the college erects impenetrable forcefields around their information that cannot be breached. But of course, they always manage to find you when it’s time to pay those pesky, ball-breaking bills. Then, suddenly, you exist. You are wanted. Really wanted.

Same with the doctor. You can even be with your child at the doctor’s office, clinic, emergency room (fill in the blank depending on your own experience here). Then the bill comes and, for whatever reason, it’s addressed to your child. It’s well over three figures, approaching four-figure territory. Your child has exactly $15.94 in the bank. You call the doctor’s office to let them know they need to submit the bill to the insurance company, and that you were actually with your child at the time of the illness/incident, so there is no need for all the secrecy.

The scenario plays out as follows:

“Are you the patient?” you are asked in a very suspicious tone.

“Uh, no, I’m the mother. I just pay the bills,” you reply meekly.

“We can only discuss this bill with the patient,” you are told in an almost-hostile tone.

“Well, good luck with that if you want to get paid,” you reply somewhat snarkily. “Because the CHILD who you are calling to pay this bill doesn’t even have enough money to pay for a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant. And, unless you can text, good luck trying to reach my child since this child does not talk on the phone anymore.”

“We DO want to get paid and we must talk to the patient or we will repossess your car, your home, and your life,” the voice threatens.

“Please do,” you plead. “Take it all. Take my bills, car payments, college payments – take whatever you want. Please!”

SLAM! BZZZZZ – the line has gone dead.

Two days later another bill from the doctor shows up in your mailbox – and now they’re charging interest.

Somewhere along the line, common sense was tossed out the window. Yes, if your 18-year-old is paying their way through life, you don’t have a right to try to sort out their medical bills or college issues unless they want your help. But, if they are still on your health insurance, if you are the one paying the bills – and, I’m not saying I necessarily want to know the details of the doctor visit, I’m talking finances here – I feel that if you need to call to straighten out insurance issues or work out a payment plan, why the heck won’t these people talk to you? I know, I know. It’s private.

Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved

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