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Good luck getting paid for those chips and sandwiches at the time of service.

Fam Pract Manag. 2009;16(6):36

Dr. Laird, a full-time solo family physician, practices next door to a Quiznos sandwich shop in Port Saint John, Fla. Author disclosure: nothing to disclose.

A woman walked into a Quiznos sandwich shop at lunchtime and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of chips and a soft drink. At checkout, the clerk said, “That will be $6.21, ma'am.”

The woman, already sipping the drink, replied, “Actually, I have insurance for this. My plan will reimburse you if you just send them the bill. Here's my membership card.”

The clerk was new on the job and looked surprised. “We take cash, check, Visa or Mastercard too,” he said.

The customer smiled and said, “No thanks, I'll let my insurance pay.”

“When will they pay us for your food?” the clerk asked.

“If you do all the paperwork correctly and send in the bill the way they want it, they'll pay you in a few weeks … or maybe a few months,” the woman replied.

The clerk was astonished. This arrangement didn't sound like much of a deal, but since the checkout line was getting backed up, he decided to take her word for it. Besides, the woman had already taken a bite of the sandwich and was opening the bag of chips.

A few months later, the reimbursement check arrived. But when the manager opened the envelope, the check was for $4.71, not $6.21. The manager angrily called up the 1–800 number on the check. After he waited on hold for what seemed like an hour, someone finally came to the phone. “No, no, no,” the person explained. “Our policy is that we pay for food, not drinks. Apparently, our member wanted that $1.50 soft drink, but the fine print of our contract clearly states that we don't pay for drinks.”

So the manager sent the customer a bill for the $1.50.

A few days later the customer stormed into the shop. “How dare you charge me for my soft drink!” she roared.

“You did drink it, didn't you?” the manager replied.

“Yes, but I was really thirsty, and I didn't know my insurance plan would refuse to pay for it,” she said.

“It's in your contract,” said the manager. “Have you ever read it?”

“No, I expected you to warn me if you thought my insurance wouldn't pay part of the bill. What kind of restaurant is this?” she asked.

The manager tried to stay calm. “Ma'am,” he said, “we deal with all sorts of insurers. Some of them pay for the soft drink and chips, but not the sandwich. Others pay for everything but the chips. Still others pay for food only after customers have spent $20 of their own money, and then they pay 80 percent of all future bills. We expect the person eating the food to know what his or her agreement states.”

“You guys are incompetent,” the customer replied.

“Well, I guess we could spend more time memorizing each person's payment rules,” said the manager, “but then we'd have less time to keep our kitchen clean and make good food.”

The customer complained to the branch manager about how terribly she'd been treated by the local sandwich shop. She threatened to sue. Multiple meetings followed.

Soon after, management decided to install fancy new computer systems and hire two extra payment clerks for each restaurant. When a customer would present with an insurance card, the computer would run a query and determine what the plan would and wouldn't pay for.

Unfortunately, this caused the price of food and drinks to skyrocket. This, in addition to the long checkout lines that developed while the computers researched payment issues, led to widespread customer dissatisfaction. Eventually, the sandwich shop closed down, and people had to make their own sandwiches with ingredients purchased at the grocery store. They paid with Visa, Mastercard, check or cash.


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