Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts -- can robocalls be human?
by Josh Bernoff
It's amazing how the world looks different once you think that people should be treated as humans.
I said I would call out examples of companies behaving in a way that is not as human as it should be. But companies are made of humans, too, and have objectives. So I will present the company's point of view as well, so we can discuss what ought to happen.
On Monday I got a call from a machine. The recorded voice said this, basically:
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts needs some information from you about your health insurance. This call is for Joshua Bernoff. If you are this person or the spouse of this person, please press 1.
OK, I'm thinking a few things now.
- Why is my health insurance company calling me? Are my benefits in danger? Do I owe somebody money? Is someone hurt?
- I don't like getting calls from a machine, especially one that demands I answer questions.
- How can I be sure this is really my insurer and not a scam of some kind?
So, of course, I pushed 1 and got connected to a woman who asked what other insurance I have. When I asked why, she provided the unhelpful answer "Coordination of benefits." That sounds like something that helps them, not me. Eventually she admitted this was voluntary, and I hung up. I am resistant to giving out information about my health to people who call me. Aren't you?
The company's side
I talked with, Tara Murray, a spokesperson for BCBS of Mass. She told me that Blue Cross needs to know about who has Medicare and situations (as when both parents of a child work) where a person can be covered by more than one type of insurance. Why? First, if they bill when Medicare should be paying, this is a violation and they get penalized by the government. And duplicate payments to health care providers drive costs higher.
According to BCBS of Mass., they start by sending letters, which generates 50% responses. These automated calls have added another 20% responses, and cost less (of course) than actual people calling. "Not everybody loves the calls," explains Tara, "but they seems to be helpful in getting the increased response rate, and helpful in the goal of keeping costs down, for members and for ourselves."
Also, after reviewing a draft of this post, Tara responded with this: "[A]fter we talked about your recommendations, the business owner was provided your feedback and he noted that he is going to look into how to improve communicating the goal and the benefit to the member." At least they are open to improving.
Are they treating me like a human?
No. Robocalls from your health insurer don't qualify as treating me like a human. Neither does asking for information without providing a good reason.
While I recognize what BCBS of Mass. needs here, that's only because I took the time to call their spokespeople. Most people won't understand what's going on here. The insurer runs the risk of a backlash including blog posts like the one you are now reading.
I feel that companies must use robocalls very carefully. When my pharmacy generates an automated call to tell me that my prescription is ready, that's good. When my dentist's office calls to remind me of that I'm due for a cleaning, I guess that's ok, since I know him. But a health insurance company trying to coordinate benefits? Doesn't pass the test.
My second suggestion is that the company be explicit about why it is collecting information. "We need to know if you have medicare or are covered by another policy, to avoid duplicate payments and keep our rates low," might be better than "Give us your information for coordination of benefits."
Finally, what prevents them from communicating by email instead of interrupting what I'm doing? "I'm calling from Blue Cross Blue Shield" commands immediate attention, since a call from your insurance company sounds medically urgent. Instead, they are collecting information for their own benefit. An email is far less interruptive and more appropriate for this sort of thing. Is there some regulation against insurers collecting their subscribers' emails, or against employers providing them?
The medical world is inhuman enough already, and so is the insurance world. Blue Cross, please stop the robocalls and treat me like a human.
Blog readers, what's your opinion?