News flash: after many valiant attempts, the bureaucracy has finally gone stark-raving nuts. The state of Virginia has just sent a letter to a dead woman informing her that she no longer qualifies for Medicaid because she is dead.
The woman in question is Mina Stetson of Alexandria. She died on June 30, 1985. Two days later, the Department of Social Services of the Commonwealth of Virginia mailed Mrs. Stetson a notice in care of her son, who lives in Arlington.
"YOU WILL NO LONGER BE ELIGIBLE FOR MEDICAID," it announced. Two lines below that, under "Reason for Proposed Action," the form read, "Deceased."
How the Commonwealth of Virginia expected Mrs. Stetson to read this notice, heaven only knows.
Why any bureaucracy would waste 22 cents to send a letter like this, heaven only knows.
And why this form was sent to her son -- who never qualified for his mother's Medicaid benefits, never tried to, never could have and certainly never could now -- heaven only knows.
But here's the best part:
This wasn't an accident.
The Virginia bureaucracy actually intended to send this letter to a woman it knew was dead.
Worse: the same letter goes to every Virginia Medicaid recipient who dies -- after the death.
"As silly as it sounds, we send notices to dead people," said an official who handles Medicaid disbursements for Arlington County.
"That's the law. I agree with you, it is silly. But we try to get staff people in the habit of sending out a closing notice at the close of every case," the official said.
The only glimmer of sense any of this makes is that a survivor might want to submit a Medicaid claim after a once-eligible person is dead.
For example, Mrs. Stetson might have run up a medical bill before she died that her son might have submitted for payment after her death, but that Medicaid doesn't cover. However, no such thing happened in her case.
"We don't intend to offend anyone," said Doug Smarte, chief of the bureau of assistance programs at the Arlington County Department of Human Services.
I'm sure you don't, Doug. And you haven't in the case of the Stetson family. But your bureau is offending common sense in a real big way.
I've always called it the Baja -- that stretch of Rock Creek Parkway just north of the National Zoo that snakes and bends and dips, and that seems to cause far more than its share of accidents.
Gail S. Kearney of Falls Church was involved in a smashup there recently that was caused the way they usually are at the Baja. An oncoming car crossed the center line, she said, and barreled right into hers.
There was much dented metal and smashed glass, but luckily, no one was hurt. Gail pulled off the road. So did the driver who hit her. They exchanged the usual information and began to wait for a U.S. Park Police officer. About 25 minutes later, one showed up.
He listened to both sides of the story (Gail blamed the other guy, and vice versa). Then he said that because both motorists had moved their cars, he couldn't charge anybody with a crime.
Gail says this announcement made her blood boil -- not just because she was sure the other guy was guilty of reckless driving, but because she had moved her car only to get out of the way of other motorists. And now here was a cop penalizing her for being thoughtful and considerate.
Researcher Michelle Hall looked into whether Gail had compromised her legal position by moving her car. The answer: Not at all.
A Washington police traffic division official said that it makes no difference whether a car is moved after an accident because "nine times out of 10, nobody's charged, anyway. We don't do reports any more on property damage only."
National Park Service spokesperson Sandra Alley said that the park police will be happy to charge a motorist with a crime if the facts warrant it. But in this case, Sandra said, the policeman took no action because the stories of the two motorists differed so sharply. "The police couldn't determine what had happened," Sandra said.
Moral of the story: If you feel like moving your car after an accident to help out other motorists, go right ahead. But it won't make a bit of difference to you in terms of the law or the insurance company.
And slow down when you're going through the Baja, won't you? When the signs say 25 mph there, they mean it.
My cheek is red from pinching myself.
Two years ago, Tom Waldrop of Alexandria had a good idea -- so good an idea that I published it. But I never expected that it would become policy.
However, it seems to have done exactly that. It looks as if the forces of computation and obfuscation at the Internal Revenue Service have seen just how good the idea is, and have adopted it.
Tom's suggestion was that the IRS take note of which taxpayers had hired a professional service to prepare their returns the previous year. Rather than mailing those taxpayers a heavy, costly Form 1040 booklet, Tom proposed sending them letters instead, asking if they want or need the booklet.
The IRS hasn't done exactly that. It has mailed cards to taxpayers who used a preparation service last year, telling them where the booklets can be picked up.
However, this is certainly the spirit of Tom's idea, if not the letter. Congratulations to him for saving the public treasury zillions. And congrats to the IRS for seeing the obvious merit in The Waldrop Method.
In California, land of excess, a judge has pushed musical taste to the limit -- and perhaps beyond.
According to Neil Morgan, writing in the San Diego Tribune, a local Superior Court judge always punches up music on a tape recorder whenever attorneys approach the bench during a trial. The idea is to make it impossible, or at least difficult, for jurors to hear off-the-record comments.
But during a recent murder trial, the judge outdid himself.
During one bench conference, the musical accompaniment was: "Please Release Me, Let Me Go." CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL
Our annual fund-raising campaign may be winding down, but group donations are not. The most recent crop:
Naval Air Systems Command, Cost Analysis Division, AIR-524 ($86 from an ugly tie contest at the Christmas party).
The staff of the Associate Managing Director for Information Management, Federal Communications Commission ($950).
Employes of the Navy League of the United States ($325).
Members of the Sales, Settlement and Advertising Departments of the W.C. and A.N. Miller Co. ($235).
The members of the National Capital Club Managers Association ($155).
And the staff of Wolftrap Elementary School ($25).
A welcome crop, indeed. Many thanks to these donors -- and a reminder to those who are still getting donations together. Time's a-wasting.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071. The campaign ends on Jan. 24.