Giving A Voice To The Voiceless

Every day, it is my job, and a pleasure, to give voice to those without. To tell the stories that would otherwise go untold. As a journalist, I am blessed to be in a position to be able to give a voice to the voiceless. To bring attention to a worthy cause.

Before being bitten by the journalism bug, I worked in health insurance. I saw both sides of what I can only describe as a horribly corrupt and mismanaged system. First, working for a major corporation. Then, later on for the government.

I started out in a call center for Cigna Health Care. As a customer service representative I was pushed by my supervisors to answer a certain number of calls per day.  To be clear, the goal was to answer calls, not to answer questions. That translated into answering calls as quickly as possible so as not to have other calls waiting in que. Management wasn’t concerned if the callers  questions were being answered. Only that the calls were being answered quickly. In other words; we were to get on and off each call as quickly as possible. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the company would look for any reason not to pay a customers health insurance claim. It was a game. If customers knew how to play the game, the claims would get paid. If they didn’t, the claims were rejected. I learned how to play. And I would often “coach” callers about how to play the game as well. (This was infuriating. Either they, or their employer was paying for this insurance. They should be able to use it without having to jump so many hurdles.)

I spent just over 3 years at Cigna. Then finally, one day, about mid-way through the morning, I realized, I didn’t want to be there anymore. I had already answered dozens of calls. I had been yelled at. These calls were some seriously unhappy people. And who could blame them? I’d feel the same way!  I had my “ah-ha” moment.  hung-up from my last call, collected my belongings, and walked out the door. I never looked back.

Then I ended up working for the county health department. Which ended up being worse! But in a different way. My department was responsible for billing. We handled the billing for every county-run clinic. Most of the patients were Medi-cal (California’s version of free healthcare) or Medicare, but some had other insurance or were private pay. When your dealing with payors like Medi-cal and Medicare the guidelines are very specific. Claims have to be sent within “x” amount of days of the service being provided. If it’s not, the claim won’t be paid. Providers can appeal. Which also has a deadline. If that’s not met, the charge for the service ends up being written off. In other words, the county healthy department (i.e., the county I lived in and worked for) basically ate the charges.

So let me describe my working environment while at the county. Mind you, it wasn’t a big county, like Los Angeles. There were a dozen or so clinics. But we had stacks of claims feet high. FEET HIGH. The stacks of claims were taller than me. The process was in a boondoggle. Claims were backed up months. We were working on mailing out claims that we knew were not going to get paid because of how far past the deadline they were. Ignoring the claims that still had a chance to get paid. I saw so much waste! It literally made me sick! It was such a dysfunctional mess. Every day, every one came in, sat in their cube, doing the same job they had done the day before. Stamping this claim with this, marking this one with that number, stuffing bills in envelopes. It was such a mind-numbing, senseless job. And at the end of the day; for what? So the county could write off the charges anyway. No telling how much money they lost! Your tax dollars at work ladies and gentlemen! Government waste!

This was the job I had when I decided: enough! There’s got to be something more! I looked around and saw these old women who had been working there 20 years or more. I thought to myself, “no way is that going to be me!”

I had been with the county just about 2 years when I left to return to school full-time. When I handed in my resignation my boss said, “I knew this was going to happen.” I’m glad she knew. I’m glad she was able to look at me and see that I didn’t belong there. That I have more to offer the world than that.

What I have to offer the world now, thanks to my hard work and my education, is a voice.

The people calling to speak to a customer service rep at Cigna, they were looking for someone to be their voice. I couldn’t be their voice. I wanted to be. I tried to be. I didn’t even have my own voice. I was powerless.

My education empowered me. It helped me find my voice. Now, I can give voice to the voiceless.


– J. Ela


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