Thursday, February 5, 2009


The money just keeps running out the door, and with it goes any chance of cheerfulness.

This week we got a letter, a fancy lawyerly letter, from my husband’s employer, sternly telling us that we owe them almost $3000 from a medical evacuation that took place in 2002 – that’s right: almost 7 years ago.

In the letter, they state that we have 25 days to pay up or they’ll take our paycheck. Plus interest. But don’t worry, they add cheerfully: we take credit cards!

And now I am fuming here at my desk.

Those of you know me will remember that I had a pretty horrendous miscarriage back then, and I had to be flown out of Kazakhstan on a tiny medevac plane – no commercial carrier would take me. We flew first to Finland so I could have surgery, and then on to London for follow-up treatment. When we returned to Kazakhstan, jetlagged and devastated by the miscarriage, I was missing over half the blood in my body, or something crazy like that. So I was sad and sick for a long, long while.

Nevertheless, I promptly filed all of the bills related to the medevac as they arrived. The big bill, a whopping 60 thousand dollars for the medevac plane, was rejected outright by our insurance carrier for technical reasons, but no matter, because the State Department acts as our secondary insurer on medevacs, so whatever the insurance refuses to pay, State pays.

Problem is, apparently the hospital in Finland sent their surgery bill to the Embassy in Finland, as they were supposed to do, and the Embassy never sent it along to us. I say “apparently,” because all of this happened in 2002, so the details are a bit fuzzy. All I know for certain is that State insists I never filed a claim, and I just don’t remember.

Why don’t I just look it up in my files, you ask? Well, because like a good State Department spouse, I went through my files and shredded everything I didn’t need before we moved – you’re supposed to do that before you move to a critical threat post like China, because you don’t want financial statements and private papers sitting around in your house if you don’t need them.

That file was ancient, and finished. So I shredded it.

But the State Department just found this bill, and they say I never submitted it to my insurance. According to the medevac papers we were given back then when I was bleeding on a Kazakh gurney, we are responsible for tracking and submitting bills. In other words, if the Embassy in Finland chose to use my bills as a dartboard instead of sending them on to me, I’m still responsible for knowing that those bills existed and filing them promptly.

The State Department apparently has no responsibility to forward to bills to me, even though I don’t speak Finnish and to this day, I couldn’t tell you what hospital I was even flown to. It’s not like I could call up Finland and ask for the billing department of some random hospital just in case I had an outstanding bill.

It’s made worse by the fact that the medevac to Finland didn’t have to happen. When I first started bleeding, the Embassy doctor told me it was nothing, just go home and rest. She told me this over the phone, because she wasn’t in-country. She didn’t examine me. She didn’t advise me to seek medical help. She told me to go sleep it off. And, because I’d been in-country less than two weeks, I didn’t know if I even had other options. So I took her advice and stayed in bed instead of hopping on the next flight to London.

When I got up the next morning, I was gushing blood and beyond the point where I could do a medevac on a commercial airline – I’d lost so much blood that no one would let me fly a commercial jet. Hence the medevac airplane to Finland.

Whatever. Like I said, this all happened almost seven years ago, back when I only had one small child. It seems like ancient history, like a grief that happened to someone else.

But here I am, reliving the experience, thanks to someone’s poor filing practices. I can write a letter of appeal to some Assistant Secretary So-and-So in charge of All Things Money, and count on it: I’ll write that letter. But I don’t imagine it’s easy to get him to reverse the decision.

I’ve had subsequent medevacs, and I have several friends who’ve had medevacs since then. I’ve always told my friends such positive things about State’s ability to deal with crises, about how State just steps up and gets you through your medical nightmare and does their best to help you through it. Now I’m feeling betrayed. I’m appalled that they would wait this long before telling me there’s a problem. I’m angry that they would tell me that, since I have no proof of anything that happened or didn’t happen way back in 2002, I’m stuck paying the bill.

If you’re reading this and you’re a State Dept EFM, let this be a lesson: shred nothing, no matter how many boxes of personal papers you have to drag post-to-post.

And now that I’ve gotten this little rant off of my chest, I’m going to switch gears and go play with my kids before I start drafting that letter.


American in Norway said... [Reply]

I am so sorry.. that is horrible & I would be pissed too. can you still submit the bill to your insurance company? It probably wouldn't be that difficult to get the bill if you needed it. There are usually only 1 or 2 hospitals in each city... & most people speak English...

Jessica said... [Reply]

What a complete and total nightmare. I honestly don't think there is anything more frustrating than dealing with faceless bureaucrats over medical issues. And for this to drag up such an awful experience all in one fell swoop. If there is anything I can do, let me know. I'm pretty good at writing threatening legal letters ...

Erin G said... [Reply]

what a NIGHTMARE. Not just the money, but dragging up an old crisis that you thought was over and done with. hang in there, I know nothing your commenters will say will make it better, so just... hang in there.

Simple Answer said... [Reply]

Wow. I am just so sorry.

A said... [Reply]

I think they should be paying YOU for sending you to KZ in the first place!

Connie said... [Reply]

So if there is not statue of limitation on their ability to bill you seven years later, how about your ability to file suit against them for not providing proper medical care and advice in the first place - if they had, perhaps you would not have miscarried and gone through this nightmare.

I would think that they should be able to help you submit the bill to your insurance company too..

Virgil Kane said... [Reply]
This comment has been removed by the author.
Global Gal said... [Reply]

Wow! I'm so sorry and I hope this works out for you. You shouldn't have to pay a dime, with insurance and the state department as secondary!

On a lighter note, for once I am not jealous of your status as a government employee! But seriously, having to be medevaced out of rural China is something I think about from time to time, especially since we have a really scary local hospital and my husband and friends fly small airplanes for a living... you just never know what can happen. (And my husband has AB- blood which is virtually non-existent in China.) Thank god things turned out (relatively) well for you. Believe me, we have been in touch with the International SOS clinic in Beijing regarding their small jet they use for this... just in case.

Please. Write your own stuff.