The two were sitting in the corner with their heads close together discussing something in earnest. I hadn’t been paying any attention until I heard my name mentioned. It’s strange how a conversation can be blocked out unless or until the mention of a name can catch the ear. I’d like to say I didn’t listen to the rest but that would be lying. There wasn’t anything said from that point on that tipped me off to the subject matter so it didn’t do me any good. There wasn’t anything for me to do except bide my time. If I’d been more at ease in the environment I might have said, “I heard my name” but I was still in my probationary period so I didn’t.
Later on that day, my boss called me aside. Uh-oh. I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive. I’d been there less than 90 days. Not much less but I could still be sent packing for any reason. She started out by telling me she was very satisfied with my job performance and how collections had increased BUT. There was that word. “BUT.” It can be the biggest word in the English language and the hardest to swallow.
She went on, “My Medicare/Medicaid biller will be leaving for another job at the end of the week and you are the obvious choice to replace her.” Whew! What a relief but then I felt the blood drain from my face. I was just now feeling comfortable with asking people for money and I was supposed to start something entirely different? I’d seen the way the biller would run around, trying to keep up with everything and I was totally green.
Before I started working at the hospital, I thought a patient came in, ran up a bill, the insurance paid, the patient paid and that was it. That wasn’t it. There was record-keeping, reporting, and none of the jobs were easy ones. The “receptionist” was also the switchboard operator, admitting clerk, posted payments, and on and on. The billers were not only billers but collectors and were cross-trained to do everything the receptionist did. At the end of the day, everyone had earned every cent they were paid and more besides. They were expected to learn rules and regulations no one else had to know and get paid less than almost any other employees. And I had joined their ranks.
I’ll have to backtrack here a little and say that not long after I was hired, there was an across-the-board raise of a quarter an hour. It seems I had a history of that happening but I was to find out later what an unusual thing it was for the hospital. I was making the princely sum of $4.25 and was working 40 hours a week. At one time, that would have been riches but it wasn’t considered much in mid-1987. We didn’t have rent to pay so it was sufficient.
The end of the week was less than four days away. I’d get a crash course in billing Medicare and Medicaid. It wasn’t a piece o’ cake. Medicaid claims had to be typed up on an old electric typewriter. The professional fees were hand-written on special forms. As for Medicare billings, both inpatient and outpatient were done on a castiron IBM XT via direct data entry. In other words, I was to sit and type all day long when I wasn’t working problem claims.
The ex-biller agreed to come back and help me with the end-of-the-month report that had to be done within the first week of the next month. It was a nightmare. I printed off reams of paper and gathered numbers from hither and yon. Then everything was fed into the IBM. It chewed it up and spit it out in report form. Everything had to balance. If it didn’t I had to go over what I’d done with a finetoothed comb until I found the discrepancy. I didn’t have the ex’es speed or knowledge and it showed. “O Rest in the Lord” went through my head over and over every day.
There was an increase in responsibility and I was hoping there would be a corresponding increase in my pay. I didn’t say anything but I was praying it would be the case. One day, my boss came and sat down next to the billing station in the corner of the back room. She lowered her voice so no one else could hear. She said she’d talked to management and had cleared a raise for me. The agreed on amount was—10¢! I doubt I looked excited because I was disappointed. It seemed very little for the work I was expected to do. I had a job, though, and I was thankful.
Weekends were my salvation. I could forget about work and be with family. We’d get ready and go to church on Sabbath. My father-in-law had shared the information that I could play the organ so I was drafted to preside at the Hammond spinet. It was a pitiful little instrument with a volume pedal that would sometimes fall to full throttle and blast everyone out of the sanctuary. I’d go to the folks’ house in the afternoon and play my organ. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that I had a better organ than the church did.
During the summer, DD fended for herself at home. With my in-laws next door, she was safe. She did get upset when Grandma wouldn’t let her play in the rain. It was a big adjustment for her to have another boss besides me.
I fixed a lunch most days to take to work. I’d check the menus and supplement what I had with cafeteria food. The veggies and beans were never cooked with meat and the prices were reasonable. Everyone thought I “ate healthy”.
In the afternoons, it got to be my routine to to get a Sprite and a bag of M&Ms with peanuts and munch while I typed. I started gaining weight. I’d started out at 140 lubs when I had my initial physical. That was on the heavy side for me. No exercise was having an impact on me, too. If I turned my head quickly, I’d get dizzy. I knew something had to give.
Mornings were rushed as it was so I started getting up earlier and exercising. I’d put Kat on a leash and we’d walk before the sun came up. It was surprising how much better I felt and how quickly the improvement came.
The pressure was on for me to get caught up with the billing. It was slow going. I wasn’t used to sitting for hours on end and typing but I soon got my speed up. There was lots of overtime during the process which helped flesh out my pay. “Rest in the Lord. Wait patiently for Him.”
Hard times hit the hospital and layoffs were mandated. Would I be able to survive?