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H1N1 Vaccine Shenanigans

December 11, 2009

So The Wife, the Three Year-Old and the One Year-Old went to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus yesterday. It didn’t work out.

The vaccine seems hard to come by, and our pediatrician(s) hipped us to this place out on Avenue X where they had it. Wife called about a week ago and told me the phone was answered in Russian. Never a good sign, unless … you know.

So the appointment was made (I’ve never made an appointment for a flu shot before, but then again I haven’t gotten many). The day comes and the four of us rumble to the F train and make the trip over to Avenue X. Not a bad ride, about 40 minutes all told, with Three Year-Old (3YO from here on out) hoofing it to the subway stop from the apt. on a cold windy late afternoon.

Getting off the subway at Avenue X, we could see the medical center from the elevated platform; very good. (I love carrying babies in strollers down long flights of stairs. It’s a very streamlined process, I assure those of you who don’t already know.) We enter the medical center where there is a large desk with three or four ladies behind it, and maybe three or four more behind them facing the other way. A lot of hubbub. A lot of Russian. It takes about a minute for them to see to us, because they are talking about something which I’m sure is very important (they’re laughing a lot, after all) in Russian. Wife talks, I bring 3YO to pee in a very bright green men’s room. It’s clean. The toilet is quiet, which he appreciates, especially when I flush it after I’ve sworn up and down I wouldn’t – an honest mistake; I’m used to flushing.

We come back out and Wife has a mound of paperwork. Crikey, we’ve got to fill out all that annoying stuff you’ve gotta fill out, four times. Or rather, she has to fill it out four times. I’m allegedly watching these kids of mine as they completely lose their minds. 1YO is tired and hungry already, but that won’t hit till later. For now he is content to “get into it” in the waiting area. He discovers a little green chair which he finds great joy in pushing around the linoleum floor. It makes a rather unique sound, which the ladies behind the desk tell us is too loud and please make him stop. So now he’s got something he wants, which he can’t have, which is SOP for him. He knows the drill and promptly gets into character; he is relentless. Meanwhile, 3YO is inordinately excited to be in this waiting area, especially given the consternation he had demonstrated earlier about getting a shot. Anyway he’s wound the hell up. I’m saying “please”; I’m raising my voice; I’m grabbing his arm and threatening to take his toy F train away. When those things aren’t happening, we share some good times.

Many patients waiting are speaking Russian. One of the TVs is showing what I think is a Russian version of the View. (I can tell because the young girl is getting shit from one of the older, cranky ladies. They all have weird golden microphones coming out from their ears.) As someone who grew up partially during the Cold War, all these Russian accents are putting me on edge. Everything sounds suspicious.

The madness with the kids continues. Wife is having trouble with the paperwork. A half hour goes by that seems like a week. Finally we get the paperwork in – Wife says the lady says we’ll get the shots soon. At this point we’ve plopped 3YO into the green chair and put it in front of the glass front door so he can stare out at the street. He’s mesmerized by the night, it seems, though he continues to occasionally burst into maniacal laughter. At least he’s not banging on the water cooler jugs in the corner anymore, or rolling around on the floor by the entranceway. 1YO is losing it, bad. He’s hit the wall. Time is going too slow. I’d already told the Wife if we can’t get this done by 5:30 (an hour after we’d arrived) we’re gonna have to bounce and reschedule. It’s almost 5:30. The lady says any minute. 3YO is off the green chair; he’s dancing a funny dance, a dance fraught with meaning. He has to poop. Oh, if this poop screws up this H1N1 shot …!

Nope! An efficient BM. But on the flip side, ten more minutes have passed and we’re still not getting vaccinated. They keep calling names but with thick Russian accents, we can’t tell if it’s us or not. Wife and I share the same look each time: What did they just say??? Clearly we’re out of our element. Maybe it’s time to pack it in and try another time, or another place, even.

Then, we are called. In through one of the doors out of the waiting area, into “where the magic happens”, to get the shot but as soon as we’re through that door, one of those ladies, those ladies I saw seemingly-innocuously facing the other way behind the desk when we first came in, says that one of us has to wait right there and pay the co-pay. The co-pay? Huh?

No no no no no. Wife says correctly that this vaccine is free. She even cutely shows the lady a letter from the insurance company saying so. The lady says the vaccine is free but we have to pay four (one for each of us) co-pays for the “visit”. Immediately I know the jig is up. Wife doesn’t see it that way and continues to try to explain to the woman that the kids have doctor’s notes, etc. The lady continues to … “clarify”, I guess you’d say, that it’s our insurance co-pay! and it’s for the visit and not the vaccine. (Never mind the fact that our co-pay is usually $30, not the $20 she’s requesting.) We are still in the doorway more or less; the payment window is right there and there are other people going about their business and it’s cramped and the writing is on the wall. I said to the Wife “We’re not paying, let’s go”. I wasn’t sure, absolutely sure that we didn’t have to pay, but it all seemed fishy to me and I wanted to know for certain. We could always confirm this was the way it was supposed to be and come back, I figured. I don’t know exactly what happened after that, because I took 3YO and went outside, after popping my head in the door one more time and saying “forget it”, as Wife continued her hopeless effort.

When she got outside, she explained to me that the woman eventually relented and said we didn’t have to pay the co-pay but that that meant the doctor was “not responsible” for whatever happened. Weird. The Wife said to hell with that, and finally left.

When we got home I called our pediatrician and told someone at the desk about this co-pay. I basically wanted to know if this medical center’s request was bullshit or not. She was non-committal but basically agreed that there ought not to be a co-pay for the vaccine, and as to the seemingly tacked-on visit fee, “if that’s their policy …”, etc.

It seems to me that their policy is to try and piggyback a vaccine that’s meant to be given for free and get some money out of it by charging for a superfluous “visit”. I wonder if that long wait to get a shot – usually a quick process – when there weren’t very many people there, then zapping you with a payment requirement when you’re on the cusp of vaccination is part of the plan. You’re softened up by then and more liable to go along with it, particularly since the H1N1 vaccine is not easy to get a hold of in the first place.
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Anyway, this morning I called the insurance company. I figured they could clarify further, and might be interested to know if they’re getting jobbed by this medical center with unnecessary charges. Well it turns out that the additional fee is at the medical center’s discretion. The woman from the insurance company I spoke to added that some doctors charge an administrative fee for vaccinations. So in essence, what I thought was some creepy Russian-tinged scam out on Avenue X is in fact a potentially widespread and systemically-endorsed scam. God bless America!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mutterskopf permalink
    December 11, 2009 6:16 pm

    Wolverines!

  2. tiefighter25 permalink
    December 11, 2009 7:43 pm

    In time to come, I tell them, we’ll be equal
    to any living now. If cripples, then
    no matter; we shall just have been run over
    by ‘New Man’ in the wagon of his ‘Plan’.
    Doctor Zhivago
    Zhivago’s Poems: When I Grow Weary

  3. tiefighter25 permalink
    December 11, 2009 8:38 pm

    shit, forgot to mention Boris Pasternak.

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