It Pays to Thoroughly Review Your Medical Bills

It Pays to Thoroughly Review Your Medical Bills

Medical expenses are second only to divorce as a cause of
bankruptcies across
our nation. Everyone — from politicians to homemakers — seems to
know that we
are in the midst of a health care crisis, but no one seems to know
what to do
about it. Skyrocketing costs and a floundering economy have put
more hospitals
in need of aggressive collection tactics as fewer people are
financially able to
pay their medical bills.

Unpaid bills are not just written off by the providers, however.
clinics, physicians and others in the medical industry pass those
expenses along
to every other patient, regardless of whether bills are being paid
by Medicare,
Medicaid, private insurance or a state-funded medical assistance

Stories like those relayed by author Jane Brody in a recent New
York Times
article are sadly common. She told the tale of her elderly —
88-year-old — aunt
who was aggressively treated (taken to the hospital by ambulance,
evaluated for
hours in the emergency room and admitted for observation) for what
was luckily
only a side effect of a recent prescription. Several months later,
the final
tally was in for the short hospital stay — nearly $19,000. For an
elderly woman
on a fixed income, even the remaining, uncovered amount of about
$1,000 was

Luckily the author’s cousin (the patient’s daughter), took a
long, hard look
at the itemized bill. What she saw astounded her:

  • Nearly $500 for a bottle of prescription eye drops normally
    costing $85 for
    a one-month supply
  • Baby aspirin — more than $4 each
  • Multivitamins, vitamin C and stool softeners — also more than
    $4 each
  • Six doses, when only two were needed, of a name-brand heart
    medication —
    about $11 each

As is commonly the case, when these ridiculously high and
erroneous charges
were brought to the attention of the hospital billing office, they
agreed to
accept a smaller amount. The fact that care providers are so often
willing to
negotiate partial payments leads many patients to believe that they
are being
overcharged in the first place. Since the reality is that some
hospitals are
overcharging some patients for services to cover the shortfall
caused by
non-paying patients and insufficient government reimbursements,
every medical
bill should be thoroughly examined.

Here are some guidelines for keeping your health care expenses
in check:

  • Asking questions when doctors request hospital stays or costly
    especially when lesser measures haven’t been attempted
  • Making sure that billed procedures actually took place — did
    the doctor
    change his mind about a test at the last minute? It could still
    appear on the
  • Be on the lookout for math errors — a misplaced decimal point
    or extra zero
    could cost you thousands
  • Request “translation” of complex jargon or medical billing
  • If you can afford to make a payment right away, you may be able
    to negotiate
    with the provider and get them to accept a smaller amount; in the
    case of Jane
    Brody’s aunt, the hospital agreed to accept only $200 in lieu of
    the original
    $1000 if a payment was made that same day
  • Ask about the possibility of a payment plan
  • If possible, find out beforehand if physician expenses are
    included in the
    total bill, if a rival hospital offers the same procedures or tests
    at a lower
    rate, etc.

With medical debt, like every other kind of debt, ignoring the
problem will
not make it go away. The inability to pay an exorbitant medical
bill is not a
sign of failure or weakness. You may need help managing your debt
if you feel
overwhelmed, especially in such a sluggish economy. If you are in
need of
assistance, consider seeking the advice of a skilled bankruptcy
attorney to
learn more about legal options that can help put you back on sound

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It Pays to Thoroughly Review Your Medical Bills