She sees $50 cost to the taxpayers

1-CENT U.S. CHECK ANGERS RECIPIENT

September 26, 1993|By Donna Weaver | Donna Weaver,Contributing Writer

Nancy Costanzo isn't going to spend her government check all in one place. As a matter of fact, she isn't going to spend it at all.

Instead, the Gambrills resident wants to share her 1-cent medical reimbursement check with Vice President Al Gore, who has made curbing government inefficiency and health care top priorities.

Mrs. Costanzo's check for one penny arrived last week from CHAMPUS, a federal agency that regulates a health insurance program for military people and their families. It covered a prescription overcharge.

"It seems I paid $2.58 instead of $2.57. I wouldn't have missed the extra penny. Nobody in their right mind would miss overpaying by a penny," she says.

But we're talking about the federal government here.

CHAMPUS tracked down the lost cent and mailed it off to Mrs. Costanzo. The check for $.01 sits on her sofa.

"At first, my husband and I started laughing," says Mrs. Costanzo. "But the longer I thought about it, the angrier I got."

As Mrs. Costanzo figures it, it cost the federal government at least $50 to send her a penny.

"At the bare minimum, you're talking about paying the person who received the claim, the person who processed the claim, the person who cut the check and the person who put the check in an envelope and mailed it," she says. "Plus, you have to add the 29 cents to mail the check. I want an answer as to why $50 in taxpayers' money went to cut a 1-cent check."

She'll keep making telephone calls to CHAMPUS and government officials until she's satisfied. She has left messages for CHAMPUS administrators and with aides to Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski. And, she's composing a letter to Mr. Gore.

"We're talking about health care and all the things wrong with it," says Mrs. Costanzo, 42, whose husband is a retired Navy man. "This is a fine example. Somebody has got to make the federal government see that common sense has got to kick in."

Mrs. Costanzo wonders why CHAMPUS can't add the penny to her next insurance check.

But Carol Pringle, a spokeswoman for the CHAMPUS Mid-Atlantic Region in Florence, S.C., says that the payment could not be withheld.

"This is the government," she says. "If it's owed to her, she'll get it right away. This is a big company. We have no file cabinets here. We have to pay at once."

Ms. Pringle says she is not surprised about the 1-cent check.

"It happens," she says. "And if she overpays by 1 cent again, we'll send her another 1-cent check."

Mrs. Costanzo is amazed at the response.

"If we keep handing checks like this out and costing taxpayers money, by the time my kids have kids, there will be nothing here," she says.

"There's got to be a system that works. Somebody has got to take a look at the system. Give me about three weeks, and I'll wipe out the national debt."

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