Medicare, myGov and me

SOMEWHERE in a computer database in the bowels of a building in our nation’s capital – or maybe it’s floating in a cloud or held at an offshore government communication retention facility – is an email I wrote last Saturday.

It was written in some exasperation. Actually, to be completely honest, it was written while I had steam coming out of my ears and after delivering the kinds of expletives you can’t repeat in respectable newspapers that kiddies might read.

There were no expletives in the email, although I was sorely tempted.

The steam was coming out of my ears because of the stupidity of the situation I found myself in.

The task I’d set was simple, or so I thought.

I’d been to the doctor for the first time in a long time, and when the doctor’s receptionist processed the bill and payment she mentioned I’d have to update my details with Medicare. My address had changed and, because all rebates are now processed online, it was unlikely Medicare had my building society details.

My $38 rebate, or whatever it was, would float around as a Commonwealth debt in my favour until I got my act together. She suggested I do it online.

The minute she said “online” something inside me shrivelled.

It sounds so benign, so convenient, when anyone suggests you do something online. A lot of the time it is. Who can even remember what it was like to stand in line at a bank for ages with a clutch of cheques and bills in one hand, waiting for the 23 people ahead of you who were also clutching cheques, bills and bank passbooks?

Bill-paying these days is as difficult as remembering your password - and yes, on certain days and under certain conditions that can be extremely difficult – and as convenient as hitting a few computer keys.

But then there’s those other “online” situations, like the one I found myself in on Saturday while trying to update my Medicare details when I should have been out in the garden enjoying the nice weather.

It started simply enough. I typed in “Medicare” and came up with the Australian Government Department of Human Services. That’s the department responsible for Medicare, pensions, Centrelink and most other services grouped under the heading of “bad debt” in government discussions before the recent Budget. It’s the department responsible for the “robo-debt” debacle.

Lots of pretty pictures and words appeared when I typed “Medicare”. I read it all before pressing any of the dropdowns. About three or four looked like they might lead to somewhere I could update my details. I hit one of them – “Managing your health care information online” – which told me I could “update your personal details, such as providing your bank details so we can pay your benefit directly into your account”.

I just had to create a myGov account first.

After 57 years on this earth I’ve settled on a few simple rules for life based on sometimes bitter experience.

Don’t perm your hair. Don’t trust pollies just because they’ve got the words “The Honourable” ahead of their names. Don’t sit a whole block of good chocolate beside you with the idea that you’ll stop at three squares and put the rest away for later because you always eat the lot. Don’t sign up for anything with “My” in the title because if it was “my” thing it would run a lot better than it actually does.

Don’t perm your hair. Don’t trust pollies just because they’ve got the words “The Honourable” ahead of their names. Don’t sit a whole block of good chocolate beside you with the idea that you’ll stop at three squares and put the rest away for later because you always eat the lot. Don't sign up for anything with "my" in the title.

So I was cautious last Saturday, but committed. How difficult could it be, I thought. I’m only giving the Federal Government my building society details so I can get $38. It’s just a job done and sometime in the future, when I might use Medicare more often, my myGov account will be there, good to go.

Would it were so.

I’ll spare you the details about the passwords and the mobile phone codes, the questions, the warnings that if I did x rather than y the government would penalise me with a big fine or a jail sentence. You know, the kinds of things governments do when pollies are caught doing funny stuff with their travel and accommodation allowances.

It went on and on.

I got to the end, after my password was rejected three times because it wasn’t complicated or random enough, and after I made it so complicated and random there wasn’t a hope in the world that I’d ever remember it. It was at that point that I wrote it down in my trusty “Complicated and Random Password Notebook” where all the other passwords in my life are recorded, because if I can’t remember it now, how on earth am I going to remember my myGov password when I’m 83 and past all caring?

After doing all that I couldn’t find where to record my building society details via my myGov account, no matter how hard I tried. I’m not stupid, but there’s only so much stabbing in the dark following computer terminology that I’m prepared to commit to.

So I went back to the start. I followed another Medicare dropdown and found a section with a link to a form that you print off. Then you write down your building society details and post it off to the department. I don’t have a working printer at home.

Which is when the steam started coming out of my ears, I swore enough that the dog jumped up from his sleep and moved to another room, and I wrote the email to the department.

It’s a measure of what a stubborn person I am that I went back to the start and pursued enough dropdowns that I eventually found a phone number to ring. I waited for a relatively short time and a nice young woman answered. After a few questions and answers the details were updated.

And I’m still waiting for a response to my email.

This story Simple rules for life first appeared on Newcastle Herald.