December 3, 2020

The Haggler: A Winding Road to Benefits From Long-Term Care Insurance

After several repairmen couldn’t fix the problem, Ms. London called the company that administers the extended warranty she bought from Whirlpool. A rep there told her that the warranty didn’t cover her refrigerator. Why?

“It has a pre-existing condition,” she recalled the rep explaining to her.

“I was actually speechless,” Ms. London wrote.

The Haggler, on the other hand, was not speechless. He was laughing. And when he was done laughing, he forwarded the e-mail to a Whirlpool publicist, Nicole Hall. A day later, Ms. London wrote again.

“Nicole called me — they are replacing my refrigerator!” she wrote. “I can’t believe it.”

Believe it. And hope the new fridge is healthy.

O.K., enough mirth. Now let us segue to a topic that actually involves health care and, sorry to say, is not very amusing.

Q. In 2002, my mother-in-law, Beverly Schultz, bought a long-term health care policy from the Continental Casualty Company, a subsidiary of the CNA Financial Corporation. She has since made more than $32,000 in premium payments.

Last September, she suffered a stroke. She was left with the problem-solving and safety awareness equal to a 6-year-old, according to the hospital. When a doctor asked her to name the president, she was stumped — even when told that his first name is Barack. We were instructed to move her to an assisted-living facility.

At 74, she can no longer be trusted to drive, ride her bicycle to the store, use a stove or remember to take her medicine. She is, in short, the very definition of someone unable to care for herself.

For five months, we tried to get CNA to conclude that it ought to cover the $4,000 a month in assisted-living costs to which my mother-in-law is entitled under the terms of her policy. It’s been an ordeal. Instead of asking for all information upfront, CNA made a series of requests in drips and dribbles, each time leaving the impression that once this new information was provided, the case would be resolved. It took days for phone calls to be returned. With each contact we got a new person, who provided different advice and asked for different information.

That’s bad enough. But after countless calls, e-mails and faxes, CNA denied my mother-in-law’s claim, asserting that she didn’t qualify for benefits. I have no idea how we’ll find the money for the care she needs.

Can you give this a shot?

Pete Kotz

Lakewood, Ohio

A. Those of you scoring at home — and, really, who isn’t? — know that the Haggler’s career record as a consumer pugilist is roughly 200 wins and one loss. What explains this lopsided history?

Picking the right opponents. And that means avoiding insurance companies. Generally, these companies don’t actually fight. They simply stand back and say, “Hey, we’re just following the definitions of the policy,” or words to that effect.

The Haggler’s one loss came at the hands of an insurer. Did the Haggler learn from this experience? No.

A spokeswoman for CNA, which is based in Chicago, sent the Haggler a lengthy and detailed letter explaining why the company says Ms. Schultz does not meet the definition of “chronically ill” as detailed in her policy and is therefore not qualified for benefits. The company said a rep from a home care agency visited Ms. Schultz two weeks after her stroke and wrote in a report that she likes to read and do Sudoku puzzles, and “stays active with household chores.”

CNA also cited the findings of Dr. Maja Visekruna, who is not affiliated with the insurer and who examined Ms. Schultz on Sept. 28. In her report, Dr. Visekruna said Ms. Schultz did not have any motor deficits. As CNA put it, “There is no mention of any concern for Mrs. Schultz’s safety, and her orientation to person, place and time was normal.”

The Haggler is condensing, but additional evidence is laid out, and then conclusions are drawn — that Ms. Schultz’s records do not suggest that she suffers from severe cognitive impairment, and that she therefore doesn’t qualify for benefits.

Mr. Kotz says he believes that all of this is bunk. That talk about Sudoku puzzles, chores and reading was, he says, his mother-in-law describing her former self, unaware that she was no longer capable of those activities. And CNA has cherry-picked Dr. Visekruna’s conclusions, he adds. He says that under a section titled “administration of medicine,” the doctor wrote, “She needs help — memory loss.” Under a section titled “Diagnosis causing the need for long-term care services,” the doctor wrote: “S/P CVA, Dementia, ” says Mr. Kotz, who adds that this is medicalspeak for “status post cerebrovascular accident, dementia.” 

“In other words,” Mr. Kotz writes, “dementia caused by or subsequent to a stroke.”

The Haggler duly forwarded Mr. Kotz’s rebuttal to CNA, expecting to hear another take on “Look, the policy is the policy.”

That is not what happened. In a thoroughly startling conversation, a CNA spokeswoman, Jennifer Martinez-Roth, explained that the company would re-examine Ms. Schultz, using an independent physician who specializes in dementia. Also, the company will dispatch a “senior officer” to meet with her family to discuss this case. A letter outlining all of this was just sent to Mr. Kotz.

“This is the best thing to do for the family,” Ms. Martinez-Roth said.

No doubt, that is true. The Haggler is happily amazed. And hopeful. After Ms. Schultz is re-evaluated, look for an update in this space.

E-mail: haggler@nytimes.com. Keep it brief and family-friendly, include your hometown and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/your-money/a-winding-road-to-benefits-from-long-term-care-insurance.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Haggler: Yielding My Time to a Comedian’s Grousing

A recurring theme of his show is the frustration of interacting with, well, just about everyone. But he’s especially skilled at sketching the shortcomings of all manner of commercial transactions. This time, the Haggler asked Mr. Carolla to opine, extemporaneously, on topics where he’d like to see some consumer-related changes in the coming year:

Restaurants

All of their cute stuff needs to go. A club sandwich needs to resemble a club sandwich, or I need to be notified. I was in Phoenix, sitting at the pool of a hip hotel with a friend, and I saw “club sandwich” on the menu. So we ordered two, but what came back was a Kaiser roll with some ham and some Swiss in it. Not the triangular cuts of bread with the bacon and the three layers.

So I said, “I ordered a club sandwich.”

The waiter said, “Oh, yeah, that’s how we do it.”

If you’re stupid enough to call that a club sandwich, you might want to tell me while I’m ordering, “Hey, I hope you’re not expecting a club sandwich.”

It’s the same with passion fruit iced tea, which has destroyed what is left of our culture in Southern California. You order iced tea in Los Angeles and you get something that tastes like somebody put potpourri in a gym sock and dipped it in warm water. I’m not kidding. When you say, “I wanted iced tea, regular iced tea,” they say, “That is our regular iced tea.”

If I went to your restaurant and said, “Give me a club sandwich and an iced tea,” and you brought me the Kaiser roll with the ham and the boiled potpourri, there’s no chance that I’d go: “This is exactly what I had in mind! You’re right. I know I said iced tea and I know I said club sandwich, but I wanted something completely different and you’ve hit it right on the head.”

I’m not into big government, but I want it to get involved with iced tea and club sandwiches.

Movie Ads

I have a fun game that readers can play at home. When an ad comes on for a comedy, especially one starring Adam Sandler or Kevin James, see if you can count to eight seconds before someone in that ad takes, like, a shovel to the head. There will be head trauma in the first eight seconds. It used to be groin trauma, but we’ve evolved.

At the movies, you watch, like, 10 or 11 trailers in a row. The good thing is that by the end, you’ve forgotten what movie you’ve come to see. Which makes it more exciting. It’s like having sex with your wife for the first time, 10 years into your marriage.

Credit Cards

First, I don’t know why the school systems are doing it, but they’re acting as if you’ll never see money your entire life. They’re so focused on cooking classes, ceramics classes, sewing classes, French, German, Spanish. Literally, I took agriculture, horticulture and five semesters of ceramics when I was in school. I never took one class in basic finance. Never learned how to handle a credit card. Never learned about compound interest.

And we tell the government, “Hey, you’ve got to regulate these credit card guys because they’re predatory.”

But the I.R.S. does the same thing. I owed the I.R.S. about $4,000 when I was 28, and they worked out a minimum payment, which for me was like $30 a month. I paid $30 a month for three years, and when I actually had made some money, and could settle up, I owed it $4,000. I was just paying interest and penalties. Didn’t touch the principal. The I.R.S., credit card companies and others need to be clear that sometimes, the minimum payment isn’t touching the principal. It’s as if you’re just paying protection money, so you won’t get a brick through the window.

Buying a Used Car

I’d buy a car that’s two years old. Buy it from the single, nonsmoker who put 17,000 miles on it. You can knock 25 percent off the retail price and it’s still under warranty. And if you want to know what the real price of a car is, go to eBay. A lot of people say, “The Kelley Blue Book says it should be between $12,000 and $15,000.” Just go to eBay and find the car you want. Whatever that thing sells for on eBay is the current market value of your car.

Some people will say, “Here’s what the dealer says it’s worth.” But I always see signs on those used-car lots that say, “We Pay the Most for Trade-Ins.” And underneath that it says, “Lowest Prices on Used Cars.” Uh, well, one or the other. You can’t pay the most for trade-ins and have the lowest prices. I’d like to find a dealership that says: “We really gouge you on the trade-in. But we have great deals on used cars.”

E-mail: haggler@nytimes.com. Keep it brief and family-friendly, and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7b762833892f8ab2b752e807ef59ce39

The Haggler: Korean Air and the Canceled Ticket

Q. In early September, I saw a good deal on a round-trip fare from San Francisco to Palau, in the South Pacific, on Korean Air. I booked two tickets for February — one for me, one for my girlfriend — for $510 apiece. In the weeks that followed, we booked hotels and planned activities, and I bought an underwater camera. We were looking forward to a great vacation.

But on Nov. 7 — a full 64 days after our initial reservations — Korean Air e-mailed to say that our tickets had been canceled.

“At the beginning of September, an erroneous fare was briefly published for travel on Korean Air from North America to Palau,” the e-mail read. “We regret to inform you that Korean Air is unable to honor this erroneous fare for travel and has canceled all tickets, including yours.”

 We were offered a refund for the tickets and other “travel related” expenses, as well as a $200 voucher to be used on Korean Air flights. It also offered to book the same seats at the best price for the itinerary in the past year. With that $200 voucher, this basically amounted to an added charge of about $360 a ticket, or a 70 percent increase. We think that Korean Air’s offer is inadequate. Quite simply, at the price it now wants us to pay, we would not have booked this trip. Meantime, we’ve passed up other options and Korean Air has had our money for three months.

What’s troubling is that this “mistake” fare was up on a travel site for at least four days. I know because we slept on it before booking, and over the next couple of days tried to persuade our friends to come with us. Then there’s this question: Why did it take Korean Air two months to figure out that it had posted an erroneous fare? The cynic in me thinks that Korean figured that the longer it waited to cancel our tickets, the more likely we’d be to cough up an additional $360.

Christopher Schneider

Austin, Tex.

A. The Haggler received a handful of e-mails that told essentially the same story, in the course of about three days. This seemed a strange coincidence until a bit of Googling revealed that an oddly named blog, “Leighrowan’s Posterous,” had posted a terrific tirade about this fare mix-up. It ended with a “media tool kit” that urged those affected to write mature but adamant letters: “Use spell-check, write clearly, use as few words as possible and make your point as quickly as possible.”

Oh, Leighrowan Posterous — that is poetry! Haggler correspondents, please memorize that sentence.

The Haggler’s e-mail address was one of several media contacts listed, which explained the sudden influx. Leighrowan speculated that “300+” people had been affected, though exactly how that number was derived was unclear. What is certain is that “the Palau 300” sounds better than “the Palau 300+.” Leighrowan, as well as others on different blogs, claimed that what Korean Air had done was A.) post a fare intended only for travel agents, and B.) totally bogus.

Several bloggers and commenters made the point that airlines charge hefty fees whenever passengers alter booked tickets. So “why should an airline be allowed to unilaterally cancel valid tickets because it’s no longer in their best interest to honor them?” asked Brian Kelly, who blogs as the Points Guy. “I understand this may be legally allowed via the contract of carriage that they created, but it still doesn’t make it right.”

The Haggler was soon e-mailing with Penny Pfaelzer, a publicist for Korean Air. She forwarded a response that basically outlined the offer that Mr. Schneider had detailed above. Plus this: “Korean Air’s ultimate goal is always customer satisfaction, and we have paid great attention to making sure our passengers are dealt with fairly. While we regret that the above arrangements might not be acceptable to everyone, it is our hope that they will be acceptable to most of our affected passengers.”

The Haggler then forwarded to Ms. Pfaelzer another e-mail from another member of the Palau 300, Spencer Fox. He unfavorably compared Korean Air’s response to that of British Airways when it found itself in a similar pickle in 2009. The company posted United States-to-India fares for $40, though only for a few minutes. When the fares lingered for two hours on a few travel Web sites, about 1,200 people pounced. British Airways quickly canceled the tickets and coughed up $300 vouchers for everyone. It later offered to cover travel-related costs, like cancellation fees.

It seems that Korean Air was working from the British Airways playbook, but as Mr. Fox noted, the Palau fare was not a self-evident error. Yes, $510 for a round-trip ticket to the South Pacific is very cheap, but not what you’d call obvious-error cheap. And Korean Air took far longer to cancel and make amends.

Let’s just say that none of Mr. Fox’s arguments moved the suits at Korean Air. Ms. Pfaelzer forwarded another e-mail stating that the company wouldn’t customize a solution for travelers who didn’t like the original offer.

 “The airline acknowledges that there will be passengers who will be unhappy with the outcome,” the e-mail said. “But it also feels it has done everything it can do create a fair and equitable solution.”

The deal on the table seemed, after this correspondence, like the company’s final offer. Until Mr. Schneider wrote last week to say that he’d recently called Korean Air and that it had quoted him a price that would cost him an additional $200, instead of an additional $360. He says he has still not decided whether to take the offer.

“Better, but not ideal,” he wrote.

E-mail: haggler@nytimes.com. Keep it brief and family-friendly, and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=10f52c17f6d8dc7ef5ae5bd67bfe7aaf

The Haggler: The Names Change, but the Complaints Don’t

That was the lesson of the Haggler’s last two episodes, which offered a dumbfounded look at the high ratings awarded by the Better Business Bureau to companies that get a lot of complaints from their customers. But does a company really need to pay annual dues to the bureau — typically hundreds of dollars — to get the upside that comes with a high Better Business Bureau grade?

Apparently not.

And so, dear reader, we dive yet again into the peculiar, alternative universe that is the Better Business Bureau, where consumer complaints go to die — or at least become categorized as “administratively resolved,” which turns out to be roughly the same thing.

This time, a look at the bureau’s inexplicable tolerance for a company in Springfield, Mo., that for years has operated what is known as a “phoner toner” business — a telemarketing operation that sells ink cartridges for printers, often to people who say they didn’t place an order and at prices that far exceed market rates.

Dataline Technologies, which does not pay for Better Business Bureau accreditation, has been providing the phoner-toner experience to people across the country for years. Actually, Dataline is just one of many names used by this outfit. It has also operated as High Performance Laser Works, Laser Works, Microtek Solutions, MTek, DynaTek, Intratek and, for all we know, other names, too. All of these companies were run from the same address, sold the same product and were owned or managed by the same guy: Richard Morsovillo.

What we know about Mr. Morsovillo is that by now he should be in a different line of work. In 2000, he signed an assurance of voluntary compliance — essentially an “I promise I won’t do that ” — with the attorney general of Missouri. (At the time, Mr. Morsovillo was doing business as High Performance Laser Works, HP Laser Works and Dataline, according to the document.)

By signing the assurance, Mr. Morsovillo vowed, among other things, “not to ship computer/printer supplies to persons or businesses who have not ordered said supplies.” He also paid $5,000 to the state for the cost of the investigation, and he denied any wrongdoing.

Attempts to contact Mr. Morsovillo failed miserably. He did not return e-mails or calls. But the Haggler heard from J. R. Hobbs, a lawyer in Kansas City, Mo., who represents Mr. Morsovillo. Mr. Hobbs stated that he had been retained roughly two years ago in response to an inquiry by federal postal inspectors, adding that he had been working with Mr. Morsovillo to assure that his various companies were in full compliance of state and federal consumer law.

Did Mr. Morsovillo keep his promise to the state A.G.? On the Web site of the Better Business Bureau, dozens of people have written in with stories about different iterations of his companies, and each of these postings is furious enough for Technicolor. Many sales tactics are described. One favorite, according to postings: a rep from one of the companies calls an office and, with casual authority, says something like, “The I.T. department asked me to get the make and model of your printer” — and with that information in hand, and after a bit of confusing patter, a shipment of vastly overpriced product is sent.

One unhappy customer wrote on the site: “Company charging a 25 percent restocking, plus shipping and handling, on return items, without first informing the customer of the potential charge.”

“Phone sale after two refusals,” wrote another. “Product refused at delivery. $844 bill in the mail for two toner cartridges! They were returned. $200 restock fee??? Bogus.”

“Please close this place down. Thank you,” wrote a third.

There are nine all-but-identical complaints about DynaTek, which seems to be one of Mr. Morsovillo’s company names of choice these days. So how loud are the alarms sounded by the venerable watchdog organization about Mr. Morsovillo and his assorted enterprises? Not loud. Inaudible, actually. Dataline has an A-plus rating. DynaTek has a B-plus.

How is this possible, you may wonder? Judy Mills, the president of southwestern Missouri office of the Better Business Bureau, said that it was all about the response of the company to each individual complaint. “These companies have a 25 percent restocking fee,” she said, “but in most cases the B.B.B. has convinced them to take back the merchandise without charging that fee. When that happens, we feel we have resolved the complaint.”

Which gets to what is so absurdly blinkered about the bureau’s approach to grades. It is true that many, though not all, of Mr. Morsovillo’s customers get their money back and are not charged a restocking fee. It’s also true that every complaint is painstakingly rebutted on the bureau’s site by someone in Mr. Morsovillo’s employ — it might be the man himself — giving the impression that the customer might be in the wrong and that, at a minimum, the company cares enough to argue its case in good faith.

But a pattern of abuse seems clear. And as the Haggler dug around a bit, with an assist from Ms. Mills, it appeared as though Mr. Morsovillo retired corporate names when they accumulated too many complaints with the Better Business Bureau, and replaced them with new ones. So goodbye High Performance, which hasn’t been complained about since 2009 and had an F grade. And hello Intratek, which first popped up in the Better Business Bureau’s system on January 2010.

IN short, Mr. Morsovillo seems to be playing the Better Business Bureau and doing so free of charge.  Representatives of his companies have swung around their high bureau ratings like medieval maces when counterattacking customers in online complaint forums. “Look at the complaints that are mediated by the B.B.B.,” wrote someone identified as John Turner, who regularly parries with Mr. Morsovillo’s critics on sites such as 800notes.com. “We have a great rating.” 

It was news to Ms. Mills that all of the companies discussed in this column were part of the same entity. She said her staff would investigate. After the Haggler’s inquiries, DynaTek’s grade was lowered to a B-minus.

“B.B.B. does not have a clear understanding of this business,” the bureau said on DynaTek’s report, by way of explanation.

Too true.

E-mail: haggler@nytimes.com. Keep it brief and family-friendly, and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bf5b71b86fd999c2abc0227e77e7325b