Hellthcare at Walgreens

by Alaina Mabaso

Day Four, and after three trips to the Walgreens pharmacy counter and five calls to my insurers, my daily medication is still in the prescription bins that a wild-haired employee shoves on the shelves as if they have done him some kind of personal injury.

Hellthcare, as I call it after navigating the insurance company’s phone tree for fifteen minutes without being able to reach a human being, is a big topic in the United States right now.

Please don’t get the idea that I’m not grateful to have a new health insurance policy (through a job, not the Affordable Care Act). But here’s a formula that will help you calculate the amount of time it may take you to avail yourself of the healthcare your insurance policy supposedly entitles you to.

Add up all the time you spend on the phone to the health insurance company and the time you spend on multiple trips to the pharmacy trying to made head or tails of what they told you. Now calculate how much money you would have made if you had spent that time working instead. When the amount of money you would have earned begins to approach the out-of-pocket cost of the medicine itself that you are trying to get through the insurance company…you still will not be able to get your medicine.

Way to hate on Walgreens, bitter blogger, you might be thinking. It’s not their fault that my insurance policy makes less sense than the belligerent crack-smoking mayor of Toronto. Walgreens is not responsible for the fact that my pharmacy benefits come through a completely different company than my medical benefits do, but the pharmacy company refuses to issue its own card and prints instructions for the pharmacist in fine print on the back of the medical insurance card. Walgreens did not orchestrate the medical fiasco whereby I need my pharmacy benefit ID number to access the system that will allow me to discover my pharmacy benefit ID number.

Call my neighborhood Walgreens the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The Walgreens slogan is “at the corner of happy & healthy.” I would like directions to this corner. Because it is not at my local Walgreens.

The first thing I wondered about the pharmacy staffer who took my insurance card tonight was whether it’d kill him to smile and/or greet me. The second thing I wondered was if he had anything against brushing his hair. Or even just the occasional haircut.

When he couldn’t immediately process the transaction for my medication, he acted like I had just tried to hand him the controls to a space station at the end of a very, very long day. He passed my card off to another employee and walked away without another word to me.

The next pharmacy staffer, who apparently shared an aversion to the hairbrush (but had gone to the trouble of putting in blue streaks) went so far as to call the numbers provided on the card to try to solve the problem, though I had to suggest that radical step myself. When she couldn’t get the info we needed, she wrote the number on the card down on a piece of scrap paper, handed it to me, and left me sitting on the pharmacy’s chair without another word.

I understand that Walgreens cannot magically fix a balls-up with my insurance company. But I can’t understand why the entire experience should be completely devoid of a friendly word, a proactive attitude, a smile, or even basic verbal greetings.

Some people think that workers behind cash registers are sub-human. I met plenty of these people during my own years behind a cash register, before I began to write full-time. In fact, my experience in several intense customer-service jobs in the retail, service and tourism fields makes me believe that everyone in America should spend at least six months working behind a register as an essential lesson in the pitfalls of human nature.

While I stewed over the injustice of not being able to get my medication and the Walgreens staffers acted like my problem was a big old poop in their kiddie pool, I had the added benefit of overhearing the pharmacist complain about the customers to the other staff.

“No matter what you do you can never make ‘em happy,” he said.

Having worked high-pressure customer service myself, this is the kind of thing I hate to hear. I will be the first to tell you that the customer is not always right, but the cardinal rule of baseline-decent service is that you save it for the break room. You do not stand in your white coat and casually bitch about your customers while your customers can hear you.

I wondered if staffers smiling, saying “how are you,” “please,” “thank you,” “sorry I was not able to help,” or maybe just not slamming the phone and the medicine bins would have given those obnoxious customers a cheerier outlook.

I’ve never worked in the medical industry, but I’d guess that good service in this area is especially important. We’re not talking about a pizza order, a tour ticket, or cable on the fritz. We’re talking about a person’s health. Many of the people stepping up to the pharmacy counter are sick. They may have just come from the doctor’s office with conjunctivitis or strep throat or a UTI or a sprained wrist. They have just run the gauntlet of American hellthcare.

Or, like me, they could need medicine for a painful chronic illness. They could use a smile. I’m going to see if I can find one somewhere other than at Walgreens.

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