Tunnel Rat posted on October 15, 2007 16:09

It was day three in The Box. I was still wading through code, tracking down DLLs and trying to get things to run locally.

It was on that third day at the One Week Job that I figured out what the guy behind me did. He and another data diddler would huddle around a 15" CRT, and crack open a stored procedure and hard-code some IDs so that each file could get imported. One would read numbers off a spreadsheet and the other would type. It wasn't like they knew SQL or anything, someone had just told them to crack open a 1,000 line proc and change the line that said:

BATCH_ID IN (9863, 3523, 3511, 9077)"


(9024, 9076, 3643, 4943)"

It was like this shop hadn't learned about input parameters, or they just said fuck it. And they had these guys doing this all day.

I was stepping through some nasty VB6 code when the Captain (Bruce) walked up to my desk and dropped a 200 page HIPAA spec next to my monitor.

“Here are the 837 specs. We need to fix the exporter to support those new fields I told you about,” he said.

“Ok. I’m starting to go through the different apps now. Lot of stuff here.”

“Yeah, I know, and we have a lot more to fix. And we have this issue with WebMD and one of our payers. I need you in on this conference call today.” He leaned over the three foot high cubicle wall and dropped his voice down an octave. “Taylor will be in on that call. I want you to work with him as much as possible – I don’t know how much longer he will be around.”

Taylor was his lead programmer, the one that was giving him problems. The one I was replacing.

I was briefly introduced to the guy the first day. Fairly young, under thirty. He was the only one with his own office, except The Captain. And he had a dog. A Rhodesian Ridgeback. And he kept it in his office.

Taylor was “I bring my dog to work” guy. You know whom I am talking about. The account exec with the fauxhawk at The Sweatshop in a Nightclub used to do the same. It is part of the dot com landscape – the shithead that brings his dog to work.


Now, don’t get me wrong – I love dogs. I have two. But what gives these guys the right to bring their dogs to work? What if everybody brought their dogs to work? How about cats? Fish? Ferrets? What if my dog decides to start humping your dog, in the middle of a conference call with a vendor? What if your dog starts sniffing the crotch of a big client?

You get my point – the insolent assholes that bring their dogs to work are “special.” They worked out some deal where they do things that no one else can do. They have a sense of entitlement, and it shows up in the attitude they bring to work. “Fuck you, peon, no dog for you. Your dog can stay home and shit all over your carpet. I, on the other hand, am the man, a player, one who calls the shots. And my dog sleeps under my desk at work – not yours, loser.”

Taylor thought he was a bigshot. He had The Captain by his frequently fondled balls because he, and only he, knew What-The-Fuck-All-That-Code-Was-Doing. After all, he had been there for years, spending his twenties being a big fish in a very small pond. He had risen to the ranks of “I Am So Cool and Important, the Boss Lets Me Bring My Dog To Work.”

So there I was in on a conference call with Taylor, some punk named Joe who handled the WebMD account, and Blake – the Rhodesian Ridgeback. It was my third day. And who the fuck names their dog Blake?

Joe dialed the number and put WebMD on speakerphone. “Hey Chris, I got Taylor here, and our new developer, [TunnelRat]. We want to talk about that feed you are having problems with.”

“Yeah, sure. Well guys, we are getting a bunch of heat because those uploads are failing and we aren’t pushing the claims…” He went on and on.

Taylor put the speaker on mute so that the WebMD guy couldn’t hear us. “He’s full of shit – the feed is bombing because of their server.”

“Yeah, but we can’t let him know that we know,” Joe said. “It’ll fuck up our deal with CalOptima.” He turned to look at me. “We get paid by the transaction, so we gotta act like CalOptima is rejecting the claims, not WebMD. They’re our biggest trading partner.” Blake was licking his balls.

I started to get the big picture. The clearinghouse would get the raw claims from the doctors, who were trying to get paid, and they would format them in some way that WebMD, who was big aggregator, would accept them. WebMB would then diddle the data and shove it up to Medicare, CalOptima, Blue Cross, whatever, and hope that they took the files. Each rejected transaction meant that some doctor didn’t get paid.

And with each batch, WebMD and the clearinghouse got a cut. It didn’t matter whether the batch was valid – they got paid, one way or another, by the payer, because the payer couldn’t accept claims from the little guys. Ever wonder why the medical insurance business is a clusterfuck? Because guys like WebMD and this fly-by-night clearinghouse in South Laguna are jerking off with your claims.

Taylor took the phone off of mute and Chris was still rambling on. “…so the 837s aren’t getting to CalOptima, and they’re totally on my case...”

837s were the claims -- the request for payment. You sent an 837, and the payer would send an 835 - a payment authorization. It was all hairy EDI shit, not even SOAP or anything remotely sophisticated. Brute force.

“No worries, Chris, “ Joe said. “So how about we run the batch again, and FTP the 837s direct?”

“From your server?” Chris asked. “I guess that would work. What about the encryption? You guys have a different key, right? TripleDES? Or PGP?”

“PGP. Send us your key,” Joe said. “Just this once.” I told you your medical data was not safe.

Taylor leaned over the phone. “That way, we can just say that we had problems with CalOptima’s FTP site.”

“Cool. Just make it happen, guys,” Chris said. “Email me.”

“Later.” Joe hung up. “Ok, you guys got it? Looks like a techie thingy now.”

Taylor shrugged. Blake pawed at his thighs. "Yes, baby, I know, we go potty soon," he said, leaning over to let the dog lick his face.

“So we are going to run the batch manually, and FTP the 837s? What about the new fields in the spec?” I asked.

Taylor glared at me. “You’re going to take care of that. You got the specs, right?”

“Yeah, but, which feed is that? What about the key –“

Taylor stood up. He was waving his finger at me. “That’s not my deal! You figure it out. And they need that file by Friday!”

Ok, I guess that was the way it was going to be. He was talking to me like I was his bitch.

“Sure, no prob,” I said calmly. I figured Dogboy was going to be out the door pretty soon. He looked pretty stressed, with three PCs on his desk and a shitload of papers piled up. HIPAA specs, emails, database diagrams, reams and reams of code printed out on legal paper, with red marks all over it.

I let him play alpha dog, just this once. But if he pulled this stunt one more time, and I would frag his ass.

To be continued...

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