The cost of inefficiency

The City of Johannesburg's s-Services is an initiative meant to provide online access to a range of services. (Screen shot)
The City of Johannesburg's s-Services is an initiative meant to provide online access to a range of services. (Screen shot)

IT'S the end of the month, so that means I’m spending a few minutes online paying bills. I go online to access my City of Joburg bill – you know, to the website I visit every month to find out what I owe.

Nope, no can do. It seems my user name and password suddenly don’t work. I try again. I go right out of everything and try again. I click on “Forgotten password?” and wait for an email. None comes. So I go to my cellphone, where I get an account every month which I never read as I find navigating it a pain on the tiny screen. I manage though, only to find that I am being charged multiple charges for everything – these charges stretch from sometime in 2014 to mid-February this year, 283 days. Total? R12 000, near as dammit.

Whutt?! I have checked my account and paid every month, like clockwork. In fact I invariably pay a bit more, anywhere between R100 and R300 more than I actually owe, having come up against this city’s billing errors once before, and suddenly had to pay extra. Where does this rubbish come from, may I ask? The words I am using are turning the air blue around me.

Here’s another thing I will have to sort out – and next week is a very busy week. I have some ten thousand words to write in four working days (the freelance life – you have to do the work when the work comes in, you can’t pace it or delegate it), which leaves almost no room for dealing with reluctant, surly call centre staff. How long will it take, dear heaven, how long? My heart sinks as I think of the obstacle course ahead, the anger it will generate, the anxiety…

I must also find time this week, somewhere, to phone Spectramed, our medical scheme. I had an emergency in November (I think unstoppable haemorrhaging qualifies as the quintessential emergency) and the good people currently running the claims have not responded to an email requesting an explanation as to why they have decided to underpay by more than half of what is, definitively, a Prescribed Minimum Benefit. An emergency is to be “paid in full”, as I understand it – two lawyers have now confirmed this for me.

The Council for Medical Schemes says: “An emergency medical condition means the sudden and, at the time, unexpected onset of a health condition that requires immediate medical treatment and/or an operation. If the treatment is not available, the emergency could result in weakened bodily functions, serious and lasting damage to organs, limbs or other body parts, or even death.” 

Unstoppable bleeding does lead, unquestionably, to death. And even when it’s finally been surgically stopped, I dunno if you’re aware that your haemoglobin drops catastrophically and you suffer from breathlessness for weeks as the body repairs that?

I’ve been slack in dealing with this because the fallout from that emergency has dragged on through the intervening months, leading up to an operation (you know, the serious kind where they slash your guts from side to side, and you battle for days to get out of bed) which has put a stop to the unexpected condition which led to the repeated episodes of bleeding.

But somehow, I have to find the energy to fight this fight, too, when I’m just three weeks away from serious surgery.

What will be the result of having to tackle these two monsters alongside a full workload? Well, I suggest you have a look at the American Institute of Stress’s website to see what impacts stress can have. Encouraging, isn’t it?

I find myself wondering just how much ill-health in this society is the result of the gob-smackingly huge load of extra work and stress we all face thanks to the incredible inefficiencies we’re surrounded by. (Yes, the medical scheme’s shortpaying – I prefer ‘scheme’ to ‘aid’ – is not just being inefficient; but not responding to my email request, that’s inefficiency.)

It blows my mind. I pay a huge amount monthly for, at the very lowest level, this kind of service – a simple response to an email. And I can’t vote with my feet. You CAN leave a medical scheme, of course, but only at the cost of having no cover for three months, so in effect you’re tied to the scheme you’ve been paying, in my case, since 1998.

And entities like the medical scheme, the municipality, the landline service, Eskom – they hold far more cards than we do, which adds to the stress in terms of powerlessness and lack of control, a notorious stressor which infuses a huge multiplier into the situation.

What impact does all of this have on productivity, GDP and so on? How much lost energy, talent and time goes into dealing with all of this excrement? What could we achieve as a society if we were simply given the service we are paying for?

Add you voice to the service delivery debate. You could get published.

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

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