Errors, Errors, Errors…A Broken System
“There’s always something to be thankful for. If you can’t pay your bills, you can be thankful you’re not one of your creditors.” – Unknown
I can only hope I am the only person that experiences significant medical billing issues, but I am not nearly as naive about this as I am when men hit on me. I naturally don’t pick up on their cues – regardless of how obvious they may be. Time and time again I receive medical bills that I simply know are incorrect. And I only noticed this once I finally completed my IV antibiotics and began entering “life” again (i.e. I was alert more than 2 hours a day). And how about those lovely debt collectors for medical bills?
What have I learned over the last seven months?
- The billing office closes promptly at 5pm yet everyone vacates before 4:30pm.
- The debt collections office is open until 8pm and cannot answer any questions, only demanding you pay the disputed bill.
- There is ONE person in the entire hospital that can answer your questions regarding billing, but there are 500 that call demanding payment.
- Medical bills are not itemized. You must request that IN WRITING and for EVERY SINGLE BILL. Oh, and each time you visit the hospital? That goes on a separate account, and, no, they cannot combine accounts into one.
- The telephone number listed on your bill to call “if you have any questions”? That goes to an “extended business office” that does not have access to any of your files, other than the amount you owe. In order to discuss billing codes or forms, you must speak to the “business office,” who NEVER EVER answers your calls…unless you email the CEO reminding him/her that if the hospital wishes to be paid, they will return your call.
- The hospital will send YOU a bill before they even bill your insurance. They will then insist they have no idea how this happened.
- Your bill lists a random account number and the amount owed, not the date of service – which is needed to rectify the situation with your insurance company.
With the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA), I have intentionally avoided any subject that could relate to it. We all have our own political beliefs, and this is not my forum to speak out on them. But I finally returned home from work and therapy early enough to actually contact my service providers to request an explanation for a charge that I did not owe. With half an hour before the offices “officially” closed, I should be able to contact both service providers and get it all straightened out! Wrong.
Instead, I spoke with a single hospital. The number listed for “any questions” admitted they were unable to answer any questions because they lacked access to the full database. They could accept payment, however. They insisted I speak with my insurance company instead. I was transferred (twice) from the “extended business office” to the “business office,” which (as mentioned above) never answers the phone.
I broke down and called my insurance company. Bless their hearts, they somehow managed to calmly listen to my charged complaints and took the helm. Despite missing dates of service, the agent maneuvered through their system to research the amount billed. As suspected, two of the bills disputed were incorrectly billed. Do not to pay them; the hospital was notified to resubmit the claim in a different manner a while back. The third bill…well, the third bill could not be found. The hospital assured me that the insurance’s portion was paid on May 31st. Insurance has absolutely no record of paying ANY bill on that date and could not find a single bill with that specific charge.
What Do We Do About It?
We fight. Not literally. Do not punch your hospital’s billing agent in the face – regardless the strength of the urge. Each bill should be compared to your insurance’s claims forms. Yes, I realize how much time this consumes. You lose precious family time. But the alternative is to pay thousands of dollars in bills you do not owe. The amounts don’t match, you say? Contact your billing agent at the service provider to dispute the claim. No answer? Leave a forceful voice message. If you’re feeling especially feisty, go ahead and send an email to that CEO who already receives 450 emails a day. Then…send a bat signal to your insurance company – they love to discover they’ve been overcharged (helping a patient that has been overcharged is an added perk).
I’m fortunate enough to have a GREAT insurance company. They are worth every single penny I pay them in premiums a month. Not only is the coverage good, they will call your hospital or doctor directly, solve your issue, and even follow up with you.
Next, you develop a filing system that documents your conversations, the bills you’ve paid, the bills you dispute, and the bills ready to be paid. I like to keep a spreadsheet of all of my bills so that I can keep track of the payments submitted, the date submitted, and the remaining balance. Once paid off, I separate it in the spreadsheet to keep confusion at a minimum. I also track the money spent on co-pays and prescriptions. This makes tax season that much easier.
As for current bills and disputed bills, I write directly on the bill. I write my concern, the date I contacted the service provider and the excuse they provided (assuming someone answered). I also add notes from my insurance company. On the outside of the envelope, I either add the date and amount paid along with the remaining balance or I write “disputed” and the date. Once paid off, I write “PAID IN FULL” on both the bill itself and the envelope.
This is the system that works for me, but everyone must find their own system based upon their needs and the number of bills they receive. Inevitably, you will need to refer to these records when a debt collector calls to notify you that you must pay a bill you’ve already paid off.
Another big lesson I learned: even if you are paying your bills on time but cannot pay in full, you can still be sent to collections – without notification. And good luck obtaining a detailed statement from a debt collector.
The point of this post is to remind you that, no matter how overwhelmed you are with medical bills, there are options and advocates. Stay organized and always ask questions. Understand what you are being billed for and be 100% certain there are no extraneous charges. Stay calm and remember there are many, many others out there that are going through this exact same circumstance. And after getting ruffled over medical bills, remember to enjoy the life you have been given. You cannot place a price on life.
“Live life so completely that when death comes to you like a thief in the night, there will be nothing left for him to steal.” – Unknown