Thursday, June 30, 2011

In rudimentary English, a guest from Checkers, an upscale downtown hotel, explained that his rash needed attention.

“I’ll be there within the hour,” I said, and quoted the fee. He replied with a phrase that makes a hotel doctor’s heart sink.

“I have insurance.”

From an American, this means the visit is no-go. I work alone, and collecting from American carriers requires either a trained billing clerk or far more patience and self-control than I possess. Mostly I refer these guests to a local walk-in clinic.

Foreign travel insurers are better. I send a bill, and (unlike American insurers) they always send a check for the identical amount. I asked the name of his insurer. It was Assistcard, an agency that’s called since the 90s.

The proper step was to ask the guest to phone Assistcard who would check his eligibility, approve the visit, and phone me. This never happens quickly, but it’s rarely a problem because 95 percent of travelers call their insurance first, so I don’t hear about the visit until it’s approved. This guest had mistakenly called me. To speed up matters, I told him I would call.

After listening to my explanation, the Assistcard dispatcher said she would call the guest, confirm his coverage, and call back. To pass time, I booted up my copy of Sim City. This worked too well; after 45 minutes of wrestling with urban problems I realized the phone had remained silent. Calling, I discovered that my dispatcher had vanished, perhaps to lunch. After putting me on hold, another dispatcher assured me that the wheels were turning. I phoned the guest to make sure he hadn’t wandered off only to learn that no one had called and that his tour was leaving in two hours. I called the dispatcher who explained that the guest was Indonesian, and he was in Argentina, so approval might take a while.

Once the guest left for his tour, the visit would evaporate, so, after waiting another half hour, I decided to drive down and take my chances. My phone rang while I was on the freeway. The dispatcher informed me that no one could find the guest’s proof of insurance, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t turn up. Learning I was on the road, he offered to call the guest and suggest he pay me directly and try to claim reimbursement. That rarely works, but it worked this time.

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