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my health insurance agent here in Washington State, to say that my monthly payment had been automatically withdrawn from my account, I was surprised at the amount:
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:
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:
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.