Washington Healthplanfinder FAIL

When automatic payments go seriously wrong.

I usually get email while traveling and generally keep up with anything important. Although I wasn’t surprised to get an email from Washington Healthplanfinder, my health insurance agent here in Washington State, to say that my monthly payment had been automatically withdrawn from my account, I was surprised at the amount:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15. My monthly premium is $375.14.

I immediately called Washington Healthcarefinder. After pressing numbers to navigate through four different menus — just to ask a billing question — and waiting five minutes on hold, a typical script-reading customer service representative answered. I told her about the problem. After asking for various information to assure I was who I said I was, she read a script that told me that emails had gone out in error. She asked if my bank had processed the withdrawal.

I admitted I hadn’t checked, and whipped out my iPad to check with my bank’s app while she was still on the phone. The transaction had not been processed.

She read another script that assured me that it wouldn’t be processed. That it was just the email that was an error. I suggested that if this was a widespread problem that an email should go out to notify subscribers of the error. She didn’t have a script for that so she didn’t have anything to say. I hung up.

Two days later, on Wednesday, I got an email from my bank confirming a withdrawal from Washington Healthcare Finder:

Withdrawal Confirmation

Note the amount: $1,116.15.

I just about went ballistic. I called the bank to have the charge reversed and was told that I’d have to fill out a series of forms to get the process started.

Washington Healthcare Finder’s offices were still closed that early, but later in the day, I managed to get yet another idiotic, script-reading customer service representative on the phone. I was not kind, especially when her script informed me that the process could take several days while their accounting department researched the problem. There was lots of time wasted on hold, which further pissed me off. When she got back on the phone, I told her that their error had cost me more than an hour of my time with two calls to them and one to my bank. I asked if I would be getting compensated for my time. She said they wouldn’t compensate me for my time, but they’d “compensate me for the overcharge.”

“That’s not compensation,” I roared over the phone. “That’s a refund for your freaking error!”

Because she obviously didn’t understand the difference, she had nothing to say. I hung up.

But not before I demanded that she turn off automatic payments for my account.

Later yesterday morning — yes, two days after the initial email about the incorrect amount went out, I got this:

Notice of Error

Is there any way they could have screwed this up more?

I’m fortunate in that I had enough money in my account to cover this unexpected withdrawal. Other people who routinely carry smaller checking account balances would likely bounce checks to other payees, setting up a nighmarish experience of explaining the problem for every bounced check and getting overdraft fees reversed. Hours of a person’s time could be wasted on this.

I recently set up automatic withdrawals for a number of organizations I do business with. It should make it easy to pay on time without any additional effort. But I’m going to re-think that strategy and make my payments through my bank’s billpay feature. This puts absolute control in my hands and would certainly prevent something like this from happening again.

Communication Failure

Someone’s communication skills need work.

This morning, while going through my email, I found two messages sent three minutes apart by the same person using the contact form on the Flying M Air website.

4:50 PM:

I have 3000 hours helicopters and airplanes. Loving opportunity to meet with someone

4:53 PM:

I have 3000 hours and helicopters and fixed wing I would love an opportunity to speak with someone.

The form offers a place for the person trying to contact me to include his name and phone number, which he did.

My questions:

  • If he wanted to talk to someone and it was within normal business hours, why didn’t he just pick up the damn phone and call? “Speaking” means either using the phone or arranging a face-to-face meeting. It doesn’t mean sending an email message. The contact form page includes both of Flying M Air’s phone numbers, right at the top under the heading “By Phone.” It seems to me that although he said he would “love an opportunity to speak to someone,” he had that opportunity then and still has it right now. In fact, anyone with a phone has that opportunity when the phone number is right there in front of their face. Maybe his phone doesn’t dial out?
  • What did he want to talk about? He’s a pilot — probably not a potential client. What would motivate me to call him? He never said what he wanted to talk about. And no, I’m not interested in calling pilots I don’t know to chat about flying and careers with them. Read this blog. Don’t you think I’m a little busy with other things? Don’t you think I’m entitled to spend my time on things that are important to me and my business?
  • By Email
    This paragraph appears right above the contact form this person used to email me.

    Did he want to talk to someone about a job? If so, he also managed to miss the Help Wanted link right above the email form. If he had clicked that, he would see that Flying M Air is not hiring pilots unless those pilots can come to Washington with a helicopter for a month starting in June to dry cherries. And if he had a helicopter, why wouldn’t he mention that?

So what am I supposed to do? He says he’d like the opportunity to speak to someone. He has it. He didn’t ask me to call. He didn’t tell me what it was about. He didn’t give me any reason to get in touch with him. I’m not even motivated to answer his email message.

And yes, I’m ranting. How could I not rant when I’m faced with such bullshit?

There I Was…

My first contribution to Vertical Magazine.

Vertical is a high quality helicopter magazine out of Canada. Beautifully designed and laid out and stuffed to the gills with quality writing and photography, it’s a real pleasure to read.

I’ve been wanting to write for Vertical for a long time, but never found a way to get my foot in the door. Until a month or two ago. I’d exchanged a few messages with one of the editors there and was passed on to another editor. He was looking for short articles for the magazine’s “There I Was…” column. This column, which is similar to AOPA’s “Never Again” column, showcases first person accounts of pilots in dangerous and/or stupid situations.

Any pilot who claims he’s never done anything stupid or dangerous is either lying or doesn’t fly very much. We all do dumb things once in a while. Those of us who are lucky, live to tell about it — and hopefully learn from it. Others don’t.

Vertical CoverThe cover of the March 2014 issue of Vertical Magazine, their largest issue ever. You can get your copy of the print edition at HeliExpo for free.

By the way, one of the reasons I occasionally read NTSB accident reports for helicopters is to learn from other pilot’s mistakes. Contrary to what the general public believes, at least 90% of aviation accidents are due to pilot error.

Anyway, I thought long and hard about what I could share with Vertical readers and decided to tell about the time I nearly killed myself trying to get over the Cascade Mountains in low visibility. I submitted it and it was accepted. It appeared in the March 2015 issue of Vertical on page 226, with the title “Scud Running in the Cascades.”

If you attend Heli Expo next month, I hope you’ll visit the Vertical booth and pick up a free copy of the magazine. Maybe one of you can send me a copy for my clip file?

On Last Vacations

A blog post triggers memories.

On this date in 2011, I wrote the last of three blog posts about what would be my last vacation with my wasband. There was supposed to be six in the series — one post for each day of the trip — but I must have gotten busy or distracted or simply lost interest and never blogged about the other three days. They’re lost in time like so many things I experienced in life and now barely remember.

(That’s why I blog about my life. So I remember things. This blog has 11 years of memories stored in it. So far.)

The vacation was in September 2011, a trip around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I’d finished up my last cherry drying contract before my wasband arrived. I was living in my RV, as usual, which was parked across the street from the last orchard on my contract, a beautiful and quiet place overlooking Squilchuck Canyon. The plan was to take a nice, leisurely drive west and hop a ferry to the Peninsula, then circumnavigate it. I think my wasband took a whole week off from work to do it.

This wasn’t my wasband’s first trip to Washington that summer. He came twice.

As usual, he came for my birthday — which I really wish he didn’t do. Back in those days, my summers were usually spent at my computer, revising one book or another. That year, I’d been working on my Mac OS X 10.7 book, which had a very tight deadline. For the previous editions, I’d worked closely with my editors to get the book in Apple stores on the date the OS was released. That quick publication, which required intense, often 10- or 12-hour days at my desk, was partially responsible for the book’s good sales figures. It didn’t matter if my birthday or a visit from a friend or loved one happened when the deadline was looming: I had to work until I was finished.

My wasband didn’t seem to understand this and always scheduled a visit for my birthday. It caused a lot of stress. He seemed to think that my birthday was a special day that required his attendance. I considered it just another day in my life, one that often required me to work. That’s part of the life of a freelancer: you work when there’s work and you play when there isn’t work.

In the summer of 2011, I managed to finish the book before he went home and we had some time together. But still, I clearly recall being in Leavenworth with him, just walking around the shops, when a panicky call came from my editor. I can’t remember the details, but it required me to get back to my trailer, which was an hour’s drive away, and email or ftp him a file for the printer. It couldn’t wait — the book was going to press and that file was absolutely needed. So we hurried to the truck and rushed back, thus pretty much ruining what should have been a stress-free day.

Picnic Spot
Our picnic spot along the bank of a river on Day 3 of that last vacation.

My wasband returned in September for our Olympic Peninsula trip. You can read about the first three days starting here. It was a great trip, possibly one of my Top 10. It was like the old days, when we did long road trips together: Seattle to San Francisco, the Grand Circle, Death Valley and Las Vegas, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway by motorcycle. We explored back roads, did the tourist thing, hiked, picnicked with cheese and crackers at roadside stops, photographed the scenery, and ate all kinds of foods. We stayed in great places and crappy places. Not everything was perfect, but what trip is?

Sunset over Victoria
On the second day, we took a ferry to Victoria, B.C.

When the trip was over, he headed home to Arizona without me. He had to get back to work, back to a job he hated, working for a micromanaging boss who’d fire him less than eight months later — even after I took him and his wife on a dinner trip by helicopter in an attempt to help my wasband score points.

Based on blog posts, it looks as if I headed back to Arizona with my helicopter in early October. Not sure why I stayed so long, but there must have been a good reason. I suspect I drove the RV back before that, but I don’t have any blog posts with details and my calendar doesn’t go back that far.

Yes, I made two trips to and from Washington each year — once to move my RV and again to move my helicopter. My wasband made the RV trip with me once in six years, taking a vacation through several national parks on the way home. I think he made the helicopter trip with me twice. It was a lot of traveling. The RV move was particularly stressful and lonely, especially if the weather turned bad along the way.

When I got back to Arizona, I started noticing a change in my wasband. He was cold and distant and never seemed happy. I assumed it was because of his job. His roommate had moved out of the Phoenix condo and I moved in. We fixed the place up nicely, with new furniture and my office set up in the guest room. Now we could spend more time together without his roommate criticizing half the things I did or said. But things just weren’t quite right.

It wasn’t until much later that I’d discover he’d been emailing an old friend back in New York that autumn about how I was “driving him crazy.” He never did tell me. I never knew that I was the cause of his unhappiness — even after visiting a marriage counsellor (at his request). I did know that he was making me miserable.

Later, at his mother’s 90th birthday party in September 2012, a few months after he’d ended our marriage with a phone call on my birthday — no visit that year! — as he was introducing the desperate old woman he’d replaced me with to his family and friends, he told a mutual friend that he was divorcing me because I hadn’t told him I loved him when he came to visit me on my birthday in 2011.

Draw your own conclusions. I did.

Anyway, the blog post I published on this date back in 2011 represents one of the last few times I was happy with my wasband. When the man I’d fallen in love with 28 years before returned to do something we loved to do together: explore new places and see new things.

I miss that guy.

Angry, Hateful People and Wasted Lives

Why waste energy on negativity when it’s so much better to spread happiness?

Over the past two years, I’ve been exposed to more angry, hateful people than I had been over the rest of my life.

You likely know the kind of people I’m talking about — people who are so overwhelmed by their own insecurity, paranoia, hatred, and/or jealousy that they spend far too much of their time and energy trying to make others miserable. After all, why should anyone else be happy when they can’t be?

Mommy Dearest

My first exposure to this kind of person was my wasband’s mommy/girlfriend, the desperate old woman who hooked him on a dating site with 30-year-old lingerie photos of herself and the incessant babying he obviously craved.

But luring a weak and confused man away from another woman and into her bed wasn’t enough for her. She found it necessary to lead him on a campaign of harassment against me, fueled by paranoia and false accusations. His money wasn’t enough — she wanted mine, too — so she guided him and his lawyers in a never-ending battle to separate me from the money and business assets I worked hard for my entire life. To this day — yes, two years after starting the divorce process! — they continue trying to hold me back from moving forward with my life.

Anger, hatred, and jealousy govern her life and actions. It’s apparently more important to her to hurt a woman she’s never even met than to make her own life better. Or to let the man she won with her lies let go of his past and move forward into his future.

It must be hard to live in a world so full of hate.

The joke’s on her, though. Unlike the man she hooked, I make a good living and know how to live within my means. Court actions and legal fees can’t stop me from moving forward and enjoying my life.

In fact, she made my great new life possible by freeing me from the rut my wasband had dragged me into with him.

Thanks!

Power Trips, Jealousy-Driven Feuds

Sadly she was just the first of several sorry human beings — people more focused on spreading their hatred and anger than making their own lives better. Whether driven by a desire for petty power over others or jealousy over things they don’t have, these people need to whine and complain and make waves any way they can to hurt others.

They choose their targets carefully — people who are happy, people who are making something of their lives, people who have charted a future and are on course to make it happen.

In most cases, their targets haven’t done a thing to hurt them. They probably like it better that way — choose an unsuspecting victim for the maximum effect.

Once their victim is selected, they focus on one or more things they can do to screw up the works for that person and they spend all their energy on it. But they don’t do it out in the open. Instead, they do it quietly, behind their victim’s back, waiting for others to swing the hammer for them once the wheels are in motion.

Why do they do this?

A man I loved used to scold me when I used the phrase I hate…

“Don’t hate,” he’d tell me. “It’s not good to hate anything.”

But that’s one of the things he forgot when he got old and died inside.

I think it’s because the only way they can make themselves happy is to make the people around them miserable. But it never works because it simply isn’t possible to be happy when you have so much anger, hatred, and negativity inside you.

It’s sick and it’s sad.

And I feel so very sorry for the people who live every day with so much hatred for their fellow man that they’re just not able to let others be happy. What a dark and gloomy world they must live in.

What a waste of life.

Clap Along

Happy Fish
Do I look happy here? I should! I was boating and fishing with friends on Lake Chelan and caught this trout!

Can you imagine how much better these people’s lives would be if they spent all that effort making themselves and others happy?

I can. That’s my world.

I spend my time working hard and playing harder. I extend a helping hand to my friends and they’re only too pleased to return the favor. We spend lots of time together doing the kinds of great things that make life worth living. The things that make us all happy.

And it’s not just friends I spread the joy to — it’s strangers I meet every day. Share a joke, hold a door, pick up a dropped item, smile. Happiness is contagious. Spread it around!

I don’t let angry, hateful people get me down. Pharrell Williams obviously wrote these words for me:

Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold it back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don’t waste your time

Because I’m happy…