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InAction Line

A Consumer Complaint Column for the 90s

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Dear InAction Line: My HMO provides a $75 benefit for eyeglasses or contact lenses, but only if you buy them at [a giant optical chain with stores all over Chicago and the suburbs]. I went to the one nearest me with my prescription, and the doctor there wanted to charge me $225 for contact lenses--when I know my regular contact-lens provider (not covered by the HMO) charges $150. So I told the doctor I would use my $75 benefit toward new eyeglasses instead. This time he added $68 to the price of the lenses compared to the same lenses purchased at a noncovered optician. On top of everything, I had to wait an hour to see the doctor (I had an appointment) and the rest of the staff was unable to answer my questions about their products. What's the big idea of sending all this HMO business to a greedy franchise when the mom-and-pop places are struggling to make it in the 90s? --Blind but not dumb in Wrigleyville

Dear Blind: After remaining on hold for 12 hours and 42 minutes, InAction Line finally got through to your HMO. Marketing people there agreed that the doctor you saw did not sound very nice, but noted that the chain had always been good to them. InAction Line reporters were unable to find out the details of the contract your HMO has with the chain (whose name we have deleted according to our standard procedure) or why it was chosen over countless other opticians for said contract. Our reporters used to be more persistent, but we found this approach alienated too many advertisers. InAction Line is sending you a magnifying glass left over from last November's election. Until you get your new eyeglasses, this should help you read the fine print when conducting future transactions.

Dear InAction Line: Several years ago I had some money to invest, so I consulted a stockbroker at a major firm. His office was decorated with Reagan Revolution banners and pictures of himself shaking Jane Pauley's hand on the Today Show. He told me that the smart money was going into high-yield bonds. I figured a guy who'd been on national TV ought to know. A year later my company was purchased in a leveraged buy-out, and I lost my job. Not long after that the balloon mortgage on my town house came due, my wife divorced me, and I found out the bonds were junk. You don't want to hear the rest. My question is, who do I sue? The stockbroker who sold me the bonds (he disappeared), the firm he worked for (it went under), the private detective I hired to find the stockbroker, or Jane Pauley? --Homeless at O'Hare

Dear Homeless: Don't you think it's time to accept responsibility for your life? If you truly are homeless (and not just another one of those sophomoric pranksters), it's certainly not because of the streamlining of corporate America. We suggest you (1) get yourself and your shopping cart the hell out of O'Hare so Chicago can look like the world-class city it is and (2) go get a job like the rest of us so you can pay for your share of the S&L bailout and help keep this great democracy of ours solvent.

Dear InAction Line: I ordered a set of sheets by telephone from the summer catalog of a major Chicago department store that was recently acquired by another department store whose name I can't remember. Anyway, I specifically asked the person I spoke with to ship the sheets to my office, because there is no one at home during the day to receive packages. Well, wouldn't you know it, they sent the sheets to my home. It took about three more weeks to get the matter straightened out, but the sheets were finally sent to my office. About two weeks later when I went to use the sheets, I discovered they had sent me a king-size bottom sheet and a regular-size top sheet. Why would I have ordered a king-size sheet? I have a regular-size bed. When I phoned the store to report the problem, they told me the bottom sheet was no longer available in regular size. Can you help? --Short sheeted on the south side

Dear Short: No. We're printing your letter because it is an example of the kind of silly yuppie problem we can no longer handle. We get hundreds of complaints like yours every day, and our reporters do not feel like bothering busy department-store executives with them. Don't you understand these people are under a lot of stress? Some of them are losing their jobs! We're sending you the address of a lady in Oak Park with a king-size bed and the opposite problem: regular bottom, king-size top. Maybe you can start a support group.

Habla espanol? InAction Line is also available in Spanish for the benefit of readers who refuse to become fluent in English. To receive a free translation send $5 in cash and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to InAction Line, c/o this newspaper. (Note: Translations are free; the $5 charge helps defray expenses.)

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