01/02/2012 05:29 pm ET Updated Mar 03, 2012

New Hire Mr. Potter Brings Blue Shield Into The New Year

Is it just me or is there something inordinately mean about sending out medical insurance rate hike packages in time for the very last day of the year? Just when we're wrapping up the holiday, taking down the tree, rebalancing the checkbook, tightening our belts to compensate for the joy of the season, there's Blue Shield of California to greet us at the door of 2012 with a big, fat rate hike envelope.

Happy effin' New Year.

Yep, looks like they've brought in old Mr. Potter, got him running the show over there now. Customer good will? Compassionate service? Thoughtful financial planning? Naw, not him. He's their "bad cop," the one with no qualms about kicking the customer when they're counting pennies, passing exorbitant fees onto unwitting private payers, offering a festive "You Didn't Think You Could Ring in the New Year Without a Departing Kick In the Ass From Us Did You?"

Come on...he's old Mr. Potter!

You know him; that greedy, money-grubbing a-hole who browbeat kindly George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life; did his curmudgeonly best to do a whole town in with his avarice and jaw-grinding disdain. That guy. He's a perfect shill for the insurance industry, don't you think? I wonder if they've already got his picture hanging the Blue Shield boardroom.

So we get these packages on the Friday before New Year alerting us to hikes as high as 39% for some, great angst for all, and I couldn't help but wonder how the Blue Shield Big Wigs celebrated their New Year's Eve after rushing those into the mail just in time for ours. Must have been a relief to get that hefty task accomplished in time for the parties! Did they do it up in style? Say, a private mansion in Sea Cliff, maybe an ornate ballroom at the Fairmount; everyone dressed to the nines with a reality show-winning chef serving up truffles and boeuf; airbrushed colleagues warmly circled, waving sparklers and slugging back Cristal, burnished by the glow of those unexpected and seemingly good-will rebates of earlier this year and the no-doubt profitable year to come? I bet that really cute blonde from the 3rd Floor temp pool got old Mr. Potter out on the dance floor and whirled him around in his wheelchair to beat of "Celebrate Good Times, Come On!"

Celebrate, indeed.

It's not just me, is it?

Let's go back to those rebates for a minute: For the first time ever, as least as far as any of us longer-term Blue Shield members can recall, we were notified - not once, but twice - in 2011 that, per the promised "2% pledge," rebates were a'comin' our way. And, lo, they did. A smaller one earlier this year, then a larger, much welcomed one in time for the December premium...a sweet Christmas gift from a thoughtful, caring nonprofit ready to do right by its customers. SEE, not all Big Insurance is bad!

To clarify the 2% Pledge for all those wondering, per the somewhat pandering letter tucked in my rate hike package:

Our 2% Pledge: Blue Shield of California's commitment that if our net income exceeds 2% of our revenue, we will give back the difference to Blue Shield of California and Blue Shield of California Life & Health Insurance Company customers and the community as long as we remain financially solvent, with sufficient funds to make the investments needed to stay competitive. The 2 percent pledge is a direct reflection of our commitment to making healthcare coverage affordable." Douglas King, VP, Individual & Small Group Markets|

Why, thank you, Mr. King, we're so very grateful -- BAM! Rate hike!

Well played, Blue Shield, well played. You're like that abusive parent who gives us a dollar, slaps our face, then gives us another dollar only to slap our face again because...well, you can.

But here's my question, BS (hmmm): if your net income was so high that you could afford millions of dollars in the public relations bonanza of those "look-at-us-aren't-we-good?" rebates, why is it that now, just a few short weeks after the second one arrived, we're ordered to pony up big bucks to cover your costs because "there are number of factors that contribute to increased healthcare costs, including hospitals, physician and drug costs, as well as the cost of ever-advancing technology." Economic whiplash, I tell ya, which leads to the next logical question: WHO THE HELL'S DOING YOUR BOOKS OVER THERE?

Oh, right... Mr. Potter.

Here's a personal anecdote that may illuminate why "increased heathcare costs" are, well, increasing; follow me here: My son, husband and I all go in for our "well person" physicals earlier this year, covered by our very high-deductible Blue Shield plans. The accompanying routine blood work is not covered so that comes out-of-pocket. Son and husband go to one medical office, I go to another. My blood work, after adjustments, costs around $70. Their blood work, after adjustments (same panels with a few extras for the husband), costs $363 for my son, $711 for my husband. WTF, right? A little investigation reveals that the medical office they went to had improperly coded their blood work billing, indicating services had been provided at a hospital as opposed to the actual doctor's office they visited. Stunned, I asked the Blue Shield customer service representative, "So you're telling me that the exact same blood tests billed out of a hospital are almost $1000 more than if they're billed out of a doctor's office??" The answer...yes. No reason for the $1000 differential other than the type of facility running the tests. There's your "increased healthcare costs"...otherwise known as price gouging. Now multiply that by millions of gouges and millions of dollars.

When the caterwauling starts - continues, ratchets up, gets crazier - about how the government should stay out of healthcare and how private business is better equipped to handle this unwieldy mess of an industry and, oh dear God, the sky will surely fall if insurance is mandated or choices are offered or regulations are insisted upon, blah, blah, blah, I want to run screaming into the street, "Are you all crazy?" Private, non-government companies already are handling it and frankly, they suck.

Until it gets figured out, my fellow citizens, tighten your belts and batten down your wallets because we're just going to be paying more and more and more for reasons that are out of our control and built upon greed, waste, mismanagement, fraud, and extortionary billing practices. SOMEBODY else has got to have a better plan, please!

And, by the way, Blue Shield, tell Mr. Potter that while we appreciated the rebates when we thought they were an uncharacteristic burst of good customer service, in the future...don't bother. Keep the money we already paid in and save us from your transparent and manipulative "good will." If there's anything worse than being a pawn in the PR hustle of Big Insurance, it's having to hand back the bonus after the klieg lights go out.