Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It’s My Escrow and I’ll Pay If I Want To

My new favorite billboards at “L” stations come courtesy of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. “For a better ER experience, experience a better ER.”

Does anyone in the midst of a medical crisis seriously weigh their emergency room options? Like, which waiting room has the most comfortable chairs to sit in for the six or seven hours?

By its very definition, a trip to the ER is not the sort of thing you stop and ponder ahead of time.

Husband: “Dearest, should I have a coronary attack during dinner, please be sure to drive me to Illinois Masonic. I know it’s all the way across town, but I hear the staff does wonders with chest compressions.”

Wife: “Truly, I hear it’s a better ER experience.”

Back in the real world, the decision is more likely to revolve around: where the ambulance deposits you, where your HMO will cover services, whatever hospital is closest to the place where you sliced off your finger.

Yet hospitals, along with utility companies, continue to pour money into marketing campaigns, as if the mere act of advertising puts the consumption of electricity or health care on par with the excitement of buying a new car. Why do they bother? My guess: They want us to feel that it was somehow our decision to have them sock us with exorbitant fees.

Illinois Masonic: “Thank you so much for letting us reattach your pinkie finger. We know you could have gone to any other emergency room in the city. But you chose us because of our brilliant “L” signage. It really meant a lot. Sorry that we were out of network. That will be $35,000.”

Ms. Patient: “#%*! That’s outrageous!”

Illinois Masonic: “I’ll tell you what’s outrageous—your attitude. You’re the one who couldn’t live without her finger. We flavored your IV with chocolate, sewed your stitches in the shape of a smiley face, and assigned the really cute single doctor to your case. For another $10,000, we can get him to ask for your phone number. You won’t find a better ER experience than that.”

Hospitals know we hate them. Same with the electric, phone and gas companies—especially the gas company. We resent having to spend hard-earned dollars on heat and dial tone and good health—things we hold true as inalienable rights—when we’d much rather buy another pair of strappy sandals. So they try to get us to like them by softening the blow.

The bank just sent us our annual escrow statement. I appreciated the little “what is an escrow account” box for those of us who’ve always wondered. But I still don’t grasp how it’s calculated. Nevertheless, we have such an account and it apparently requires additional funds for reasons that will remain murky to me until the day I die, when, assuming I’m headed heavenward, St. Peter will ask me which of the world’s great mysteries I would like to have revealed. I will respond, “1.What really happened to the dinosaurs? 2. Why did my hair always look great the day before I got it cut? 3. How does escrow work?”

The bank tells us that in order to bring our escrow account into balance, “you may pay the shortage in full (Option A) or pay the shortage over 12 months (Option B). It’s your choice.”

Actually, no, it’s not my choice. If I had my druthers, I would opt for Plan C: not to pay the shortage at all. But that’s not on the table, now is it, so spare me the sugar coating.

Imagine a world of straight-talkers. From the bank: “We don’t care how you pay your escrow shortage. Just pay it. Or we’ll repossess your home.”

Or this, from the hospital: “If you’re in the neighborhood and happen to be bleeding and we’re a member of your insurance plan, we’ll see what we can do.”

Or this, from the gas company: “Know anyone else who can deliver natural gas to your home? We didn’t think so. Screw you.”

* * *

More Un-Truths in Advertising

Apple’s iPod is a wondrous invention. Truth.

But those gyrating go-go dancers featured in iPod commercials bear no resemblance to reality. No way the headphones will remain in place while you violently toss your head side to side and up and down. No way the headphones will remain in place while you stand still.

I like to go running with my iPod—it’s helped me shave seven or eight minutes off my total time. Imagine how much faster I would be if I weren’t constantly slowing to shove each ear piece back into place every few hundred feet.


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