A few moons ago I received a bill from the Florida Hospital in Palm Coast. It revealed a small balance marked 120 days overdue in my wife’s name. The bill was authentic, but it was also the first time I had seen it. Naturally I asked my wife whether, or not, she had received any other notifications from Florida Hospital. She assured me she had not.
As most hospitals become agitated after four months, I wanted to satisfy the obligation before it was turned over to a collection agency. In the name of immediacy, I elected to make a personal visit to the account manager at the hospital. This would allow me to write a check and dispose of the bill in person on the spot. I presumed that any rational account manager at any hospital would appreciate the full and immediate payment of an overdue bill.
After arriving at the hospital I was directed to the account manager’s office. She indicated that she would be with me in a moment. Shortly thereafter she invited me into her office. I introduced myself as the husband of the debtor, and presented her with the bill we had just received in the mail.
She entered the account information into her computer, and immediately indicated that according to her information multiple statements had been sent to us earlier. I was flabbergasted by this information, which was clearly at odds with what my wife had indicated. I asked her to specify the address where the earlier statements were sent. She had no response to this question, so I asked a second;
“Why had I received the current statement in the mail, yet had not received any of the previously mailed statements?” She had no reply to this question either.
At this point I indicated that I would write out a check for the exact amount owed the hospital, paying the bill in full.
It was at this point that she had a clear, yet incomprehensible reply:
“I am terribly sorry, sir. This is not your bill, but is the bill of the person who you claim is your wife. Before we can allow you to pay the bill, we will have to get her permission. Is that OK with you?”
For the second time within two minutes I was flabbergasted.
“Suppose” I said, “That I had my marriage license with me. If that were the case, would I be allowed to pay my wife’s bill?”
“Absolutely not” she replied emphatically. “That would certainly prove that you were married to somebody, but it would not allow you to pay the bill on this account.”
“And in Florida, are husbands not responsible for the debts of their wives, as they are in most states?”
“Sir!” she replied, “We can not allow you to pay anybody’s bill in this hospital without their express permission.”
“Well, in that case, I guess you better get her permission.” I responded incredulously.
With that she asked if my alleged wife was at home.
It was also at this point that I generated a wild and preposterous story designed to confound this incredibly perplexing policy.
I continued as follows: “I must confess to you, in absolute secrecy of course, that I am a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. I live with seven wives, all of whom are illegal within the State of Florida. Now if you call my home, and any one of these seven wives answers the phone, all seven will deny being married to me, as they are not interested in having me arrested. You see, I pay all their bills, yet because of the legal complications, they are reluctant to blow the whistle on our legal indiscretions. I guess this raises the question of whether I, as a legally unmarried male, can pay the bill of any other person in the State of Florida, who happens to owe you money?”
She responded almost immediately. “We really don’t care who pays for the services we provide. The only thing that matters is that we have the permission of the person who received the services, regardless of the relationship with the bill payer.”
With that I had a final question or two: “So if the person who answers the phone claims to be the one who received the services you rendered, you really don’t care who pays the bill. Is that correct?”
“That is essentially correct,” she said.
“And if you can never reach the person who received the services, will the bill remain unpaid, – forever?”
“Probably so,” she admitted.
“So you will take the word of a ‘voice’ on the telephone over the word of a person sitting in front of you with a checkbook ready to pay a bill legally owed the hospital. Is this your policy?”
“Yes it is” she said quite emphatically.
With that she called my wife of 53 years who gave her permission over the phone to allow me to pay her hospital bill of $150.00. When a husband is not allowed to pay his wife’s bills without her express, immediate verbal permission, the bill-paying train has come completely off the tracks, and the animals are in charge of the zoo.
Somewhere behind this convoluted policy, I suspect an ACLU-type lawyer, with more advice than sense, is lurking, – and smiling. And standing next to him is a gutless hospital administrator who us unable to collect a bill legally owed from the husband (or wife) of the person who received the hospital’s services.
Had my wife not been home at the time, no doubt I would have been shown the door, checkbook in hand.