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Commercial endeavors undermining marriage

May 6, 2008

The duel of the day pits householders who wish to make their own rules as to how their households are run and who does what, versus government-throttled businesses invoking “privacy concerns” when a spouse needs to tend to routine account matters.

My husband is the primary account holder on our joint credit union account and our cell phone account. This seemed like the fine and obvious thing to do at the time. Little did we know that he would have awesome powers he would never use, but that I would require routinely and not have.

I set up our credit union account with bill paying and other features. For some reason, I was empowered to pay bills, as well, of course, as deposit and withdraw funds. I soon noticed, however, that I could not do things like request online statements instead of mailed ones; nor could I see the auto loan we took out briefly when my husband’s truck died at an inconvenient time in our cash flow cycle. I called the credit union and asked why I could not see the loan or request e-statements.

I pointed out the irony that I could withdraw all our funds and slither off to Minot, North Dakota, and never be found–yet I could not pay on the car loan or change to online statements. I pointed out that we live in a community property jurisdiction–and didn’t he find this stupid? He did not. He uttered some federal regulation incantation.

I was so annoyed that I paid off the truck loan so they wouldn’t make another dime from their own stupidity.

Six months later, I finally spoke with someone clued in at the credit union. The powers enthroned in the exclusive bailiwick of primary account holders are (1) closing accounts, and (2) ordering e-statements. The rationale for the latter, the representative explained, is that paper statements are delivered to primary account holders (whose wives probably open them), and they could contain highly classified information about loans on which only the primary account holder is a signer. Only signers are privy to loans on which they sign; it doesn’t matter that the loan is attached to a joint account in a community property jurisdiction.  Another wonder is that I cannot open a CD but I can withdraw funds from one.  This is specifically what I mean by “stupid.”

My cell phone came down with a glitch, and I called the store. The nice rep asked me to come in and they would look at it, and if necessary they would order me a new phone. I went right over. In the meantime, the dear girl had looked at her screen and discovered that I was not an authorized user. Bother that I had my own phone and my own phone number–I wasn’t authorized.

At least there was a fix. She gave me an insider number. I called my husband, who, thankfully was not in court, and relayed the number. He called the number and got me on the account as an authorized person. It seems that when we were asked at the initiation of the contract, whether there would be any “other” authorized users, it didn’t occur to us that I needed to be a designated other. We assumed it referred to other people. We’re so ingenuous.

The real glitch is systemic. I could withdraw all our funds, run up a zillion-dollar phone bill, and head for Dubai; but I had no authority simply to request a replacement phone.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) set new protocols for health privacy. It is really a scream. Loosely translated, it means that you have to fight to see your own health records. Some labs have made me sign a release to get my results, even though I harbor a strange proprietorial sense about things that come from my flesh, and services that I pay for.

My favorite health privacy scenario is the pharmacy line. We must stand a certain distance from one another in line in order to protect one another’s privacy. Then the tech yells, “Mr. Brown, your Viagra is ready!” Mr. Brown is cowering by the greeting card display, blushing deeply, wishing against all hope that a headline had hit the news that day that Viagra was indicated for tennis elbow.

Privacy-driven policies seem to inconvenience more than they protect. When we question them, the glib response typically contains the words, “federal regulations.” When I asked my credit union representative for a cite to the Code of Federal Regulations that kept me from seeing the car loan on our joint account last year, she said she would locate it and get back to me. She called back and suggested I read a 44-page account agreement booklet at their website. I asked whether there were any CFR cites in the booklet. She said there were not.

The cycle is out of our hands and out of our line of vision. Businesses claim government makes them treat customers as suspects and their spouses as strangers, and government claims people want their privacy–especially, it would seem, between spouses.

  1. May 6, 2008 11:40 am

    Just wait until they start putting medical records into Google.

    Then your records will be inaccessible in entirely new ways.

  2. May 6, 2008 11:43 am

    Yes, inaccessible only to you, though I’m not sure that’s anything new.

  3. May 9, 2008 4:29 am

    Completely OT, but… Of all the bloggers I read, I think you are the best writer.

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