Honestly, Ms. Haynes, the check is in the mail!

Companies are quick to take your money but slow to return it. If you don’t believe me, talk to Alissa Haynes, who needs help untangling a refund problem with Blue Shield Health Insurance.

But first, a disclaimer: I’m a Blue Shield customer, and while I’m generally happy with its services, I have also at times been hoppin’, “I’m-voting-for-Bernie-Sanders” angry. Either you nationalize health care or you don’t. None of this in between nonsense, please.

But enough ranting. Blue Shield deducted $700 from Haynes’ bank account — money “they weren’t supposed to take,” she says.

A company can do that if you set up auto-pay. The only way to avoid it? Don’t set up auto-pay.

“I called, and they said they would give me a refund and it would take five days to two weeks,” she says.

Of course, it didn’t.

“I called two weeks later and they told me they meant to say 14 business days,” she says.

So 14 business days later, still nothing.

“I called, and a representative told me Blue Shield is still processing my refund and that they will send me a check,” she says. “Which is odd, since every person I’ve talked to said they will deposit it the same way they took it out, which is electronically.”

She asked why.

“That’s just how it’s done,” a representative responded.

She called again. Another representative told her that the previous agent was wrong and that the money was on its way. In fact, the funds would be deposited in her account “today.”

“It is now the end of the day, and it’s still not there,” she says.

“I called again; they said, ‘Oh, we’ll send an email to the people to see what’s wrong. It should take at least a day.'”

Haynes is deeply skeptical that the money will arrive. Now, $700 may not be a lot to some of you more affluent readers, but Haynes is on a limited income. She manages a bookstore in Merced, Calif. She really needs her money back now.

Although I don’t have a formal policy about helping consumers collect money, I normally stay away from getting involved unless it looks like a company plans to keep the money. I’m certain that Haynes will eventually get her check, although not soon enough for her.

I see two problems here that might make me want to jump in. First, how the heck did Blue Shield deduct $700 from her account by mistake? If that happened to me, I’d cancel my auto-pay that day and never look back. And second, if was a mistake, why didn’t they fix it right away?

I know we have a few accountants who read this site. You’ll probably tell me that refunds take time because a company has systems to ensure it pays only valid debts. Fair enough. But if Haynes is right, then this wasn’t a debt. Blue Shield just sucked the money from her account and then dragged its feet returning it.

How can that be right?

Beyond that, I wonder why this kind of thing is even allowed. Why can companies simply keep your money for as long as they feel like it? And no, “That’s just how it’s done,” is not an acceptable excuse.

Can a fix be mandated? Already, the Transportation Department has rules that say ticket refunds must be processed within a week. I wonder why they even have to say something like that, unless it was a problem before they said something.

Some of you, dear readers, are ideologically and reflexively opposed to government meddling, but maybe you can tell me how not regulating something like this is a good idea.

And for the rest of us who can see the wrong being committed here, maybe this is something worth bringing up with your elected representative. I’d love to see the Timely Refund Act of 2016 get passed. Wouldn’t you?

Should the timing of refunds be regulated by the government?

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