Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Wig Saga

As I posted on Wednesday, mom and I went and purchased a wig in preparation of the start of her chemotherapy next Friday. Unfortunately, the wig shop we went to was not an approved provider by Aetna, her insurance company, which meant that if we kept that wig, we would not be reimbursed for the $372 charge. Normally, I would chalk it up to our own ignorance of not checking this prior to purchase; however, we were provided an insurance code in the wig shop and told we could call the insurance company with the code for reimbursement - implying that the shop was a provider for Aetna. We even asked at the shop before the purchase if we should call Aetna while we were there and we were told, "oh no, you can do that when you get home."

So, on Friday I phoned the owner of the shop. I know she is the owner of the shop as it says she is on the receipt and on the website. However, when I spoke to her on the phone she denied that she was the owner stating once that she was "just a stylist" and then saying she was "just the manager" - but she IS the owner. This only added to my feeling that something very unethical is taking place in the shop. After four phone calls, all which she stated I would have to wait until Tuesday to resolve this issue, I decided something more had to be done. She told me she needed to wait until she could speak to this associate, as she also assisted with the sale and wanted to hear from her "what she told us."

At that point I wrote the following letter to the Better Business Bureau:

Better Business Bureau
1600 S. Grant Street
Longwood, FL 32750
Fax: 407.786.2625

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing in response to an experience with the local business Premier Hair Enhancements located at 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd, Orlando, Florida 32819. On Wednesday, September 7th, the day after finding out my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer and must begin chemotherapy on Friday, September 16, 2011, we visited Premier Hair Enhancements with a prescription from MD Anderson Cancer Center. We were assisted by Sarah Park, the owner per the company website (please see attached). She fitted my mother with a wig described as a “Medical Wig” for $372.74. I charged this item to my Visa debit card. She provided an insurance code (A 9282) and said we could call Aetna with prescription for reimbursement.

However, upon calling Aetna, my mother was told that this shop is not a provider in the network and they will not reimburse the cost. I phoned the shop today, Friday, September 09, 2011 – only two days after the sale – and I am told she will not refund the cost, even though she misrepresented her affiliation with the insurance company. She also informed me that she is not the owner of the shop, only a manager – yet on the receipt I was given she is listed as the owner (see attached) as well as the website. She went on to tell me she would need to speak with another associate who also assisted us with the purchase so she could understand exactly what we were told – to determine the refund and that this would have to wait until Tuesday.

Mind you, my mother is a stage IV cancer patient. She begins chemotherapy next week – scheduled for surgery on Monday for port placement. We were being proactive to take care of this at once so she has the wig in preparation of losing her hair immediately following chemotherapy. Time is of the essence.

I find these business practices to be unethical. Ms. Park, being in the business that she is in, must deal with cancer patients on a regular basis. She must have known to advise us to speak to Aetna first (or even that Aetna would not reimburse if we purchased the wig in her shop). Rather than offering that level of support, she misled us into believing we would be reimbursed by insurance, by providing an insurance billing code and making the sale.

I will be contacting additional organizations regarding this business practice as I do feel the ethical and right thing to do in this situation is for Ms. Park to authorize the refund for the unused wig so we can purchase a suitable wig from a shop that is an approved provider. I believe other organizations that provide information to cancer patients need to be informed that Premier Hair Enhancements uses unscrupulous business practices, exploiting patients with the very illness they are seeking treatment from to make a “final” sale that can then not be reimbursed by one of the largest insurance carriers in our area.

Should you wish to have more information regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me at the phone number listed above.

Thank you,

My plan was to fax it to the shop, providing her an opportunity to see the complaint prior to my sending it. I called Ms. Park as the fax number was not working. Her response was, "why can't you just wait until Tuesday!!"

I again expressed that we simply don't have a lot of time. If we must seek out another wig at the Aetna approved wig store, we needed to go this weekend to do that. Additionally, we already have nearly $400 tied up in this wig that won't be reimbursed and we will still have to wait for reimbursement from the "approved" wig. We can't wait for her to make up her mind on if she is going to do the right thing, or not!

I attempted to fax again, with copies of the receipt and website. It didn't go through. So, I decided I would just pay the shop a visit on my way home from work and hand deliver the letter (and evidence gathered that she has lied to us about who she is).

At 5:45pm I walked in to the shop. At first she didn't recognize me but then immediately she appeared like a deer caught in headlights - a look she had several times over the next 45 minutes.

"I just thought I would hand deliver my formal complaint to the Better Business Bureau since your fax machine is not working," I said.

"I just don't understand why you can't wait until Tuesday for this to be resolved."

"Ma'am, with all due respect, my mother has a port placement on Monday. She has a plethora of other appointments next week, we don't have time to wait on this. She starts chemo on Friday, we need the wig before Friday and we can't get the wig that is reimbursable by insurance until we have this settled. That is why we can't wait!"

"I need to talk to the associate that helped me with this sale. I need to know what she told you."

"I told you what she told me. She gave me this code to provide to the insurance company. That alone implied that you are an Aetna provider. She also told us to go home, call the insurance for reimbursement - again, this made us believe you were a provider and we would be reimbursed. You, ma'am, are running an unethical business that takes advantage of women suffering cancer. You ma'am are doing something very, very wrong. But don't worry, I'm copying the Insurance Commissioner on my letter, I'm quite sure he will be interested in this situation. Additionally, I'm copying MD Anderson Cancer Center so they may remove you from their list of possible wig shops. I also think Susan G Komen of Central Florida and the women currently fighting for their lives need to know how you take advantage of their sisters who are just starting their journey."

"I am a good Christian woman. I have a picture of Jesus on the wall." She pointed to a picture of Jesus and a Crucifix hanging on the wall in the rear of the shop.

"Well, Jesus Christ would return this money!"

"Are you saying I'm going to go to Hell over $400?"

"Ma'am, that isn't my call. I'm just saying that there is a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do in this situation. Jesus Christ would do the right thing."

"I'm a business owner. I am running a business. If you were in my shoes what would you do?"

"Umm, obviously, I would give the refund and take the wig back."

She then danced around needing to speak with the associate again. She said that she had tried calling her all day but hadn't been able to reach her because she was at the hospital because of a lump in her breast. I pray this was only an excuse and the woman isn't facing this same battle but if she is, I pray she is met with far more compassion than my mother has while seeking a wig.

"Why don't you go ahead and give her a call now, while I'm here in the store. If you get a hold of her we don't have to wait until Tuesday, correct?"

Again, the deer in the headlights look. She grabbed her phone and called the associate. For the life of me I can't remember the associate's name so for the sake of using a name, I'm going to call her Sue.

"Sue, are you home? Are you home from the hospital?"

She immediately told the story. Sue confirmed that she provided the insurance code but told her that code is only used by the insurance to say yes or no on reimbursement. I said that is not what we were told, if it had been we would have called BEFORE purchasing the non-exchangeable, non-refundable wig. The owner then decided it was a good idea to have me talk to Sue on the phone.

"I don't understand why I need to be in the middle of you and your associate. You are the owner, you make a decision. Right thing? Wrong thing? You must decide if you run an ethical, moral business or not!"

I get on the phone with Sue who is obviously upset that the owner is placing her in this position and blaming her for the entire mix up. However, it was the owner that pointed to the desk and told Sue to give us an insurance code on the day we purchased the wig.

Finally, the owner opened the drawer, pulled the receipt out from the credit card purchase on Wednesday, asked if it was us and then ran a credit through the machine.

"I'm not going to hell for $400."

She also wouldn't accept the wig back. My intent was not to get the wig and the money. In fact, this was about so much more than the money. It was about a place of business exploiting women (and men) in their darkest hour. It isn't right.

I still plan to report this shop as something must change. How many others have gone there, been told they can seek reimbursement from, only to find out they are stuck with a purchase that cost them hundreds of dollars? It's just not right.

But, Michael stays. . .and that is a good thing.

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