Much of the year, this column spotlight bad business practices and companies that hurt consumers.
But today, we want to highlight the good.
Here are Bamboozled’s heroes of 2017.
A HELPFUL NEIGHBOR
When Pete Hamerslag of Martinsville learned his neighbor was in trouble, he stepped in and made a huge difference.
The neighbor, Joe Becker, 90, purchased a long-term care insurance policy when he was 72 years old.
Over the years, he paid $75,000 in premiums to make sure the policy would be there to help should he ever need long-term care.
Becker knew how important it was to keep the policy in force. After his wife had a stroke, he spent years caring for her until her death in 2015.
A few months after becoming a widower, Becker had a fall, breaking several ribs. He had moments of confusion during his recovery, and he missed a payment on his long-term care policy.
When Hamerslag learned Becker received a missed payment notice, he tried to help. He contacted the insurance company – Senior Health Insurance Company of Pennsylvania (SHIP) – and sent a check for the full premium.
SHIP said no. The policy was cancelled, and it would only be reinstated if either state regulations or the policy’s language required it to.
The company said Becker could file a request for reinstatement, but when he did, it was denied. SHIP didn’t accept that Becker, at the time of the missed payment, was suffering from “cognitive impairment,” a condition that would allow for reinstatement — despite what Becker’s doctor said.
Hamerslag wasn’t ready to give up. He contacted Bamboozled, but our efforts didn’t change the company’s mind, either.
So he filed a complaint with the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI), submitting evidence to support the temporary “cognitive impairment.”
Before long, a DOBI investigator told the pair that SHIP agreed to reinstate the policy.
Kudos to Hamerslag for all his efforts. (He wants to give a shout-out to the others in the Spring Run neighborhood who help Becker with everything from food to transportation and more.)
He is a good neighbor, indeed.
MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSON
Yes, the Motor Vehicle Commission. MVC. Rarely is this agency on a list of good. It is this time, and well-deserved.
MVC has gone above and beyond to help our readers even though the stories never appeared in this column.
You see, Bamboozled can’t always write about every reader complaint that comes in. But we can sometimes get the complaint in front of the right people. That’s what has happened here.
MVC has in the past offered to help our readers even if Bamboozled won’t feature what’s going on in a story.
And it certainly has helped.
There was the reader who mailed in his registration renewal along with a check for $71.50. Nearly two months after the check was cashed, he still hadn’t received the new registration. The driver asked for the status at an MVC location, but was told he would have to pay the fee again. He knew that wasn’t right. When Bamboozled asked MVC to investigate, it resolved the issue on the same day.
Then there was the reader whose husband suffered a spinal cord injury. He was in a rehab facility when his driver’s license was set to expire, and the renewal was required to be in person. The wife called MVC to see if he could get an extension on the renewal . She was told to send an email but she didn’t get a response. When we asked MVC to look, it found an answer because of the special circumstance. The husband didn’t get a new license, but a letter extending the validity of his current license for a year.
Cheers to you, MVC, for all the help.
‘DO-THE-RIGHT THING’ LEGISLATORS
It’s pretty common to hear complaints about “do nothing” legislators — public servants who don’t seem to get anything done for their constituents.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Senator Tom Kean get a Bamboozled high-five for taking action that didn’t result in legislation, but instead encouraged — some might say pressured –hospices to make things right for their customers.
The backstory came when Margaret Shaw’s mother Ida Shaw needed hospice care.
The family chose Center for Hope in Scotch Plains.
The cost was $390 a day, and they would have to pay for seven days to reserve a bed. The seven days would start on a Monday, even though Ida Shaw wouldn’t move in until Tuesday.
Margaret Shaw paid the non-refundable $2,730.
Ida Shaw died on the Thursday after two-and-a-half days of care.
Margaret Shaw thought it wasn’t right to pay for days of care that her mother didn’t receive, but the contract said the money was non-refundable.
Shaw next reached out to several legislators with a plea for new legislation banning hospice centers from charging fees for services not rendered.
Munoz and Kean took it on, introducing matching bills in their respective houses.
“This would prevent a hospice from charging a patient or family member for time periods in which the hospice is not providing services and the hospice is free to place another patient in the bed,” the Assembly version said.
Of course, the hospice industry didn’t like that one bit.
A hospice industry group reached out to the legislators, hoping to avoid a new law.
The Home Care & Hospice Association of New Jersey instead promised hospices would change their billing practices.
“To better assist families during stressful times, all these licensed hospices that own residences have adopted policies that provide for a refund of facility deposits for any day in which a patient is not a resident in the facility,” said Chrissy Buteas, the group’s president and CEO, in a letter.
The group said it would make sure “this policy is consistently applied statewide.”
The result is that same as what would have come from the legislation.
Hats off to Munoz and Kean for applying just the right amount of pressure so seniors and their families are protected.
‘DO THE RIGHT THING’ CONSUMER
If your insurance company sent you $14,000, would you keep it?
Jim Quinn didn’t.
His is a story of insanely high medical bills and why we should care, even if our insurance will cover the costs.
Quinn had a bicycle accident and ended up in the emergency room. He left with a broken wrist and a broken clavicle, and a bill for nearly $30,000.
The charges included more than $17,000 for “surgery,” but he didn’t have surgery. He was seen by two residents, X-rayed and sent home.
Quinn’s insurance company had no problem paying the bill.
After investigating the charges, which included fees for two ambulances, Quinn was unsatisfied.
He didn’t want the insurance company to pay what he believed were exorbitant charges.
We learned the “surgery” charge was simply a code for the bill submitted by the orthopedist — who Quinn never actually saw — but that wasn’t good enough for Quinn.
He kept fighting, and eventually got the orthopedist to lower his fee.
Because the doctor was out-of-network, Quinn had in hand a check from his insurance company that he was supposed to use to pay the doctor. Now that the doctor had lowered his fee, Quinn had $14,000 left over.
He didn’t keep it. He returned it to the insurance company.
We need more people like Quinn to fight over questionable medical charges, even if they’re covered by insurance. Otherwise, we’re all going to pay more.
Our final hero of 2017 is you, dear reader.
This column couldn’t be possible if you weren’t willing to come forward with your complaints, putting yourselves out there with your real names and faces, to try to resolve disputes. Your bravery not only helps you, but it helps other Bamboozled readers as we all learn about consumer protections and how to battle questionable company practices.
Thank you for trusting us.