You want health insurance with terrible customer service? Forget Obamacare–try Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois

There’s not much more to my post than the headline: I’ve just concluded my sixth phone call with BCBS of Illinois (having been hung up on the first five times by an automated phone tree which sends you directly to an automated service-satisfaction survey without first giving you any service to be satisfied about). This means I spent the better–or worse–part of two hours trying to find out why BCBS sent me a bill for my January premium I’d already paid on-line.

I went straight to Blue Cross to buy health insurance because I don’t qualify for a subsidy and didn’t see any reason to grapple with–or burden– But every time you hear that payments made on the government Website might not be transferring properly to the insurers, please remember that payments made on the Blue Cross Website suffer from the same disability. And while there’s a live chat on which at least connects you to a person who can explain the problem, Blue Cross has made sure to keep its product completely untouched by human hands. I finally got through by calling corporate headquarters and explaining first to the corporate operator and then to local customer service and then finally to national customer service (after local stayed on the line with me for ten minutes to assure that national actually picked up) that a bill dated 12/12 should have included an electronic payment made on 12/2, and that no, the bill and my payment hadn’t “crossed in the mail.” In the words of the great Eric Clapton, “How many times must I explain myself ‘fore I can talk to the boss?” though by “Forever Man” I doubt he meant “man with whom you have to stay on hold forever.”

In short (I know, other people’s customer service nightmares are a bore while one’s own is fascinating), everyone who complains about the f***-ups of Obamacare ought to take a second a remember the last time s/he had to deal with a private insurer. In fact, the worst thing about the Affordable Care Act is that it leaves the insurance companies in the picture, and us to their continued tender mercies.

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

39 thoughts on “You want health insurance with terrible customer service? Forget Obamacare–try Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois”

  1. I’ve had similar experience with my private insurer, trying to find out why a simple small claim was not paid for months. Even whe I got through to someone they didn’t know.

    I think this generalizes to a lot of situations. It’s easy to complain about how hard it is to deal with government bureaucracies, but as so many can attest, the customer service offered by many private companies is pretty terrible. And no, they don’t seem to go out of business, as the market-worshippers would have you believe.

    1. And a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge chunk of this is because the computer systems don’t talk with each other, or have a high error rate when they do (because people were using different codes and definitions).

      Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm………………….. where have I heard that recently?

  2. Because if 1% of a business’s customers are unsatisfied, the perception is that 99% satisfaction is wonderful. If 1% of the constituents associated with a government program are dissatisfied, then it’s a f***ing disaster. Your liberal media at work.

  3. The next Obamacare crisis will come when people start trying to make claims against their new policies and discover the private insurance companies doing everything they can to not pay out. The blame, of course, will fall on Obamacare, not on the companies.

  4. BTW, if you have a chance to fill out an online survey, use words like ‘lawyer’ and ‘lawsuit’. Your response will be flagged and passed to a person.

  5. Kelly, I am sorry you had such a hassle with BCBS of Illinois. Over 35 years, and many interactions, my experience with BCBS of Virginia (now Anthem) has been the EXACT opposite.

    It’s a random world, for sure.

    1. John, Thanks so much for the correction! I thought Forever Man had the sound of a cover, specifically of a white man covering black blues, but my boyfriend assured me it was a Clapton original. Conclusion: boyfriend has the same tone of irreproachable rightness as brother, when peddling equally nonsensical wrongness.

      1. Oh, for god’s sake! Kelly, I am so sorry to make such a mistake. I have known so many people who seemed to think that Clapton wrote I Shot The Sheriff that my knee just jerks when I even suspect someone has made that mistake, and this time it has led me into error and folly. My sincere apologies.

    2. And then again, per Wikipedia: [For Clapton’s first solo album,] They commissioned three songs by Texas composer Jerry Lynn Williams, one of which was “Forever Man”.

  6. Kelly — spot on to highlight the point of comparison we should be using when we judge I spent hours this week trying to stop my private health insurer from billing me, getting paid by me and then sending me a check for overpayment back to me usually on the same day I got a dunning notice threatening me for not paying the money that had just be refunded to me against my will.

    1. …and if you’d actually gotten sick during the mix-up you’d have been totally out of luck. If the companies keep a percentage of their customers in limbo like that at all times, and they save a bit of money on the ones who happen to fall ill while they’re trying to get it sorted.

      1. ………….and I’ll bet that a flurry of activity in a patient’s account is not a bad predictor of more claims in the immediate future.

  7. My personal favorite is the time I followed up on a long-delayed reimbursement for a new pair of eyeglasses. Not too hard to get a person, but I loved it when she asked, “Well, why did you send that to Indiana?”

    Um, because that was the address on the form you gave my company.

    It’s modern life. Bureaucracy is universal.

  8. In fact, the worst thing about the Affordable Care Act is that it leaves the insurance companies in the picture….

    Oh really?

    And just how would those corporate spongers survive if you and I didn’t pay a capitalism tax to these middlemen?
    Paying more than is necessary, should make liberals and conservatives feel good about the virtues of private enterprise…
    Think of it as a sort of charity for the buggy whip makers of the free market.

  9. In the 70’s I was employed by Blue Cross for about 18 months. I use the words “employed by” rather than “worked for” because there was lots of time that I was hanging around waiting. My boss, who could not suffer fools and lacking this needed trait was fired, explained that there would be scandals if Blue Cross “spent money visibly” e.g. paid anyone a high salary so instead they would hire five people at low salaries who would bump into each other.

    I am amazed that there do not seem to be people that a private person can hire to deal with the insurance company. Some companies provide that lovely perk but I do not see subway adds for such angelic creatures.

  10. “…so instead they would hire five people at low salaries who would bump into each other. ”

    And somebody supervising 25 people gets paid more than somebody supervising 5. A not uncommon occurrence in the corporate world.

  11. To see what’s going on now with Blue Cross Blue Shield Illinois, Texas, etc., visit their Facebook and twitter pages. It’s a disaster. Their payment system was updated in early December and is a big fail, their id cards are incorrect or nonexistent, members who have paid aren’t in the system so can’t get prescriptions or care from doctors without paying full price for them, people who cancelled a policy and got a new one under the ACA were had premiums for both plans deducted from their checking accounts, and the customer service wait times are in excess of 3 hours. Even considering problems with links to and a last minute surge, this is a company that did not invest enough in systems and people and is woefully unprepared. To make matters worse, their management has gone underground when they should be addressing their customers.

  12. Feb 11 – 2014 — I too skipped the federal site due to no subsidy so why bother. Went directly to BCBSIL on November 23 2013 and applied with a live agent. Received ID cards and no policy.
    I read this post while still on hold here on phone with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois after 90 minutes trying to find out why my Feb 1 auto-draft did not get processed. Have tried since January 6th 2014 to get this auto-draft process set up. No one seems to be able to do it. Every service call is at least 60 minutes on hold with elevator music and no resolution. I was told to check with the bank last week to see if the payment went through. It did not. Yesterday, tried to call three times — and after a short wait each time was told that the computer system were down and call back tomorrow.

  13. hey, the nightmare is blue cross blue shield period. i was 7 years with bcbstx and then split the family policy to take advantage of o-care govt intervention in eliminating pre-existing condition exclusion i had; well, same thing, just try and pay these guys and get them to credit the payment; my automatic bank drafts, my online ACH and my CC payments have all been deducted but not credited

  14. I went through my insurance agent who suggested ACA BCBS HMO. We too did not receive the subsidy, but went ahead with the ACA process to avoid the 45% increase in insurance premiums through my husband's employer. The ACA BCBS is not any better than the regular BCBS. I have paid my January and February payments(totaling $1963.00-not so affordable for a healthy,young,family of four)and still do not have an insurance card,dental card,prescription card, or vision card! The beauty of the HMO is that the insurance card lists your primary care physician. I can print a "temporary" card from their site, but it does not state my PCP. My PCP doesn't have time to sit on hold with BCBS to verify that they are in deed listed as my PCP. So, for my sinus infection I had to go to a walk in clinic….which is exactly what they want you to avoid. I then had to pay out of pocket for my prescriptions because I don't have a prescription card! I signed up 12/17/13 and still do not have anything to show for it!

  15. I don't have the time (I'm at work now), to describe my experience with BCBS-IL. I don't ever recall having to do business with a company as awful as this one. The scenerios to too far and in exhaust of words. Because of my asthma and BCBS already having my Premium payment I would have taken my business elsewhere. And what sucks even more is their Upper Management has obviously disappeared – there's no one there to complain too?

  16. While I am glad I am not alone, it frustrates me that there seems to be no end in sight to the mess called bcbsIL. I paid my premium and still show as having no coverage. Thank God Im not on any medications. When are they going to get this fiasco repaired. Ive been a customer of theirs for 25 years, but Im seriously starting to rethink that.

  17. I can't believe waiting one hour for customer service at BCBS to answer and this happened about three times already..,so frustrated…just had to vent. After the forth try and waiting one hour, someone finally answered and pretended not to hear me, so they disconnected my call.

  18. Extortion by the Chief executive is still extortion. Here is what he did: His Management informed insurance policy providers to cover people even if they had NOT paid their rates. Then allow them to use any physician they want. If they do not pay, the plan take the loss for medical centers, physicians and medication. If you do not do this—you will NOT be permitted to sell insurance policy next year—in impact, be shut by the govt for NOT breaking State insurance policy rules.

  19. Before you pay your you should take a serious look at what your cover for. I was in A FIB went to my doctor she called an ambulance to take me to the hospital 2 days there and now I just got a letter saying that since I did not have a blood clot that traveled to my lungs or my brain { a stroke} I am not covered at all. I can file an appeal if I want –what they really want is for me to think twice if it happens again before seeing a doctor so the next time I go into A FIB I will give them what they want and do nothing. Can't wait to see the bill for the 2 days —- you pay for insurance, you think your covered. Put the money back in your pocket all the insurance companies want is for you to die quicker so they don't take to big a hit.

  20. Its stupid to think of BCBS as a health care or any "care" company. They simply don't give a pooop. There customer service number recording have changed to only answer calls dealing with payment of premiums and they routinely give you this line a crap that they are "experiencing usually high call volume. Please call back later. Well later comes and its the same old nonsense and the call volume has remained high for weeks on end. Its sad, as BCBS of IL used to be a good company. Now they are not.

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