Binders Full of EOBs and WTFs

Written by Susan Fritz | Friday, May 5th, 2017 Posted in Blog, Dan Fritz

You remember the “binders of women”, don’t you? Or does the news cycle move so vapidly and rapidly you’ve forgotten that fun little quip from Mitt from just 5 years ago…

Don’t answer that. It’s irrelevant to my point here. It’s just a cute way to begin my rant, which is what this is.

I’m joining the chorus of people who wonder if Paul Ryan’s parents regret the many times they dropped him on his head as a child (but that’s just mean-spirited, right?). I join the people who summoned childhood diabetes and asked for mid-life cancer; the silly parents who work part-time jobs instead of corporate ones ON PURPOSE so they can avoid providing their families with health insurance; the lazy artists who are freelancers and have always needed to “get creative” not only in their careers, but also en route to Urgent Care.

I’m joining those idiots.

But back to binders…you see, I have a lot to say about binders. Not of women, but of EOBs. Forgive me if I sound like a broken record with my sob story about how cancer altered the course of my life, but, well…it did. I’ll start from the beginning (in this case, yes, a very nice place to start—Dan always had a crush on Julie Andrews).

In the beginning, there was a corporate job—the Dan’s (who was my aforementioned husband)—not mine. His entry into the corporate world began with talent and brains, yes, but also a more urgent need to eliminate massive student debt—this is not a new story by any stretch.

Dan became gainfully employed at several major corporations, eventually working at a wee company called Colgate-Palmolive, where he worked for only one month before he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic T-cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…I know! It totally rolls off the tongue, right?

Amongst other things I will reveal here for the first time, I’ll tell you that now, while writing this, I looked this diagnosis up on the internet. I never had before—I suppose because I knew enough, I thought, and it was less of a “thing to do” 9 years ago when Dan was diagnosed. It turns out Dan’s doctor was right—of all the varieties of this disease to get, this was not the one. “Well, you didn’t make this easy, kid” said the oncologist from Iowa who lived in New Jersey and carried around a mercury thermometer like the outlaw doc he was.

It turns out he, Dan, never had much of a chance…but I didn’t know that back when we were both 29-years old living our lives with his fancy corporation health insurance. I thought everything was going to be ok until it wasn’t, and thank goodness…because when you are presented with a life and death scenario, you do not have the time nor the energy for anything but survival (and, back in 2008, a bit of Brick Breaker on the subway ride to the fancy cancer hospital).

I’m going to repeat that sentiment with some bold letters: when you are in the middle of a, for lack of a better word, “fight” for your life, THERE IS NO TIME OR ENERGY FOR ANYTHING BUT SURVIVAL.

We were lucky—by design, yes, but with strings attached. Dan was very strategic in the way he lived life. He wanted to eliminate his debt and thus overpaid his student loans with any “extra” money we had each month; he wanted to have the security of health insurance and the things adults have when they (before it was a verb), “adult”. In this way, he bought us “freedom” by following the rules of corporate America, but Dan looked forward to the day he could leave the corporate world and its machine-like security for more creative shores. However, more than once he expressed a fear of never being able to do so because of his “pre-existing condition”.

Cue Magic 8-Ball: Reply hazy. Ask again later. (shake again). My reply is No.

When he—we—received this diagnosis, Survival Mode did not include HOW THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO PAY FOR THIS? The fancy corporate insurance was amazing; his company, above and beyond helpful (#buyColgateproducts). Even so, and to return to the Binder, each and every time I received an EOB (“explanation of benefits” for the non-initiated), my breath stopped until, as my eyes scanned from the top to the bottom of the multi-paged letters, my pupils focused upon the words,

“Amount you owe: $0”.

Again and again I’d see this miraculous number, “0”, and again and again I exhaled, never truly believing its veracity.

EOB: blah, blah, drugs, blood work, drugs, MRI, etc., PET scan, etc., drugs, services rendered, blah…$103,000. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes the total took my breath away. The Mystery Amount. The Invented Amount. Because at the end, it said:

Amount you owe: $0.

We had the Memorial Sloan Kettering billing office’s dream account. Periodically I’d drop in and ask, “Can this be correct? This ‘you owe $0’ deal?”, and the woman in her Kettering cube would say, “Yes. We love your account because there are never any problems.” To be honest, at times it didn’t seem fair, this owing next-to-nothing. But…

Yes. It was correct. We met our out-of-pocket maximum, dealt with various expenses and lost income, but were by no means bankrupted because of this “unlucky” diagnosis.


So…EOBs? WTF. I cannot solve this problem with my personal story, and that is probably irritating to read. All I know is that I, personally, have not been “blessed” with my own cancer diagnosis or diabetes or a heart condition or even a broken arm of late, and the binders of EOBs I kept have long since been thrown in the trash.

But tomorrow is a new day and someone will receive news that will alter the course of her life. And, although I would never suggest that this hypothetical “she” should pay nothing or owe nothing and expect everything, I do suggest a system should be in place which enables her to breathe and focus on a little thing called Survival.

Seems like survival is a human right, right?

Mr. Ryan, put that in your Binder and shove it.

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