modern disappointment.

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Chronic Illnesses, Affordable Healthcare, and Corporate Policy.


By Abraham Cheddareggs

Being a Customer Service Representative is not for the faint of heart. Long hours, high stress, and a lot of phone calls from irate people are just the start of what they go through. In addition, as a CSR, they get hit from the employer side as well. On average, even if the pay is great, the health benefits that are given are less-than-stellar. And if you work for a health care company as a CSR, it’s even worse. The fact is that Customer Service Representatives have some of the highest stress jobs outside of public service safety people. They are expected to be at their job, regardless of severe illness or not. Doctor’s notes do not excuse absences for unexpected illness, and they can be written up for taking “too many” days off – even if they have the PTO to cover it. Most companies have a “3 strikes you’re out” policy regarding unexcused absences, and if they are a newly hired individual, especially within the first 6 months to 1 year, they are expected to not have ANY unexcused absences at all. A perfect example was given at a telecommunications company a few years ago. An individual working there had been diagnosed with cancer.  She had gone through 6 months of chemotherapy and had used up all FMLA time for that treatment. After 4 months, she had to go through another 6 months, and was violently ill after her treatments. Because all FMLA time had been used up, she was told by management that unless she had sick leave or vacation saved up, she would be expected to arrive on time at work every day, regardless. There was no discussion of an adjustment of schedule, to try and assist with the situation. Therefore, she would have her chemotherapy every Wednesday evening, and spend all day Thursday vomiting into her garbage can at work while answering phone calls. There are a few employers who will tell their reps up front that they don’t have an attendance policy –they expect the rep to “Be Responsible” for their own actions. The loop-hole in this is that these employers are able to immediately fire an employee for being sick within the first few months of hire, simply because they don’t feel that it’s responsible for the employee to have gotten sick and taken time off to get better. The newest corporate company idea is to promote “Pro-Active Health”…  Basically, the idea is to encourage employees not to be sick. There are prizes, contests, premium discounts – some even have a bonus for no sick time taken for a year…  All of these things are great, because they encourage employees to take care of themselves and keep as healthy as possible by fighting heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other common chronic conditions. In addition to this, some employers, especially those in the health care fields, are cutting back on health insurance coverage by adjusting things to be more “employee responsible”.  This means that the employee can get basic preventative services and screenings at no cost to them. This is great because it means that early detection of cancer or chronic illnesses can ultimately create a better recovery or treatment regimen for them. The downside to this type of healthcare change is that anything additional would most likely be at a much higher cost, because most of these plans have a very high deductible of over $3000 to be met prior to the insurance covering even part of the costs.  Employees who get sick end up paying thousands in doctor bills for care – and most cannot afford it. A Urinary Tract Infection, for instance, can cost up to $2600 to diagnose and care for, while other chronic conditions like Thyroid disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Diabetes can cost up to $9000 a year, even after the deductible is met.  Sadly, not one of these latter three is honestly preventable diseases. Realistically speaking, these chronic conditions, Diabetes included, cannot be avoided for certain people, even if the person follows every possible preventative care measure given. For new hires, it is an even more precarious situation. Not only are they fighting the stress caused by being in a new situation, learning new information and attempting to learn it as quickly and as flawlessly as possible, but they have been introduced to a completely new set of germs and allergens that were previously unknown to their immune system. Understanding this, it then becomes completely illogical to expect that a majority of new hires will not get sick within their first year of being in a new company, and will therefore either end up coming in sick and exposing co-workers to illness, or taking time off and being placed on an attendance action plan to “curb” their unexcused absences. Thus, the argument of Affordable Health Care still rears its ugly head. The issue is two-fold for most employees:

  1. While preventative medicine is affordable, the unavoidable illnesses are overly costly and end up creating an ever-rising cost of medical bill default or bankruptcy and,
  2. Even if we have affordable health care, the employer is still insisting on a “no-time-off” ideal for their workplace, causing employees to come in while sick, spreading germs to other employees who were otherwise healthy, and wreaking  more havoc by creating new sick people.

The fact is that they are all human beings – and like all human beings, they will get sick, at some point or another. Being held to a threat of punitive action if they get sick is like telling them not to blink. It is impossible to guarantee that they will not be ill, at one point or another – and the threat of written warnings or the loss of their job does nothing to help the situation but cause more stress.  In addition, being held responsible for thousands of dollars in health care bills when they do take care of themselves is equally asinine. This simply increases the level of stress, which in turn, increases the possibility that they will get sick again due to the constant level of high stress in their lives directly stemming from their jobs. So, the question is: How can employees join with their employers and with health care agencies to promote real, honest Affordable Health Care, while understanding the financial and physical limitations of employees? It is necessary to understand both the financial limitations of employees as well as understanding their medical history (pre-existing chronic conditions requiring constant care). In addition, it is crucial to make sure that employers take into account the fact that new hires are more susceptible to sickness within the first 6-12 months of employment as discussed prior, and that this is not necessarily completely controllable by diet and exercise alone. Chronic Illness sufferers should be provided additional support with further medical coverage, additional on-the-job Disability support which may include adjusted schedules, more lenient time off for recovery due to illness, and changes in work load when necessary.  Most chronic illness sufferers do not take excessive days off and, on average, are exceptional employees able to provide solid performance. The trick is to provide the appropriate work accommodations to allow for recovery time necessary to continue to provide this solid performance. All employees should be encouraged to take the time off necessary to recover from severe illness, so as not to spread the disease to all co-workers. One or two days off in the beginning of a severe illness may well translate to saving upwards of 3 weeks off in the future, and keep additional employees from catching it – especially if you have other employees with compromised immune systems working.  Employees should be encouraged to see their doctor or go to an urgent care and simply provide proof of the visit to avoid disciplinary action. For corporations looking to lower their long-term budgets for hiring and training, and increase their overall retention of otherwise solid employees, they must look at health care coverage as a right, rather than a privilege, which means working with doctors to lower the cost of visiting a doctor for standard illnesses to within a reasonable level based on income. $300 or more for a single visit is not, on average, a reasonable visit cost for most Americans. Therefore, the Affordable part of Affordable Health Care must be addressed as well. Based on the average income of an hourly worker, the cost of healthcare becomes untenable when it goes beyond about $100 per visit. Companies then have workers who are unable to be seen for chronic conditions, or for treatment of a newly diagnosed illness such as cancer, due to the high cost of repeated treatment. This then leads to further issues stemming from the initial chronic condition, eventually leading to long-term and irreversible damage to their bodies. Due to the long-term effect of most chronic conditions and side effects from improper treatment – or lack of treatment altogether – this can then lead to a domino effect, with employees being forced to eventually apply for Federal Disability benefits, taxing the already taxed Medicare and Medicaid system to the brink. In addition, as they are unable to pay for what medical bills have been amassed, many employees will simply file for bankruptcy or hardship to have the bills reduced or wiped clean completely. All in all, this is not the path that most individuals want to consider when looking at healthcare in general. It is difficult to imagine being in a civilization where one is penalized for being sick, whether it is a cold, or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Yet, this is the culture that corporations are now promoting.  It is wonderful to promote healthy eating, exercise and good overall care habits. It is quite another to determinedly undermine any chance that a chronically ill person might have to receive affordable healthcare that could ultimately provide that same corporation with a solid, steady worker capable of providing stellar performance.

One comment on “Chronic Illnesses, Affordable Healthcare, and Corporate Policy.

  1. fred
    November 25, 2013

    The problem is that a CSR is treated the same way sales jobs are. And a salesman is basically in a cult.

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