“You need to pay $500 today,” the voice on the phone demanded.
It was 7:30 in the morning. I was in a hospital room with my 6-year-old son. He’d just been admitted after spending all night in the emergency room. I was exhausted, stressed, and not equipped to deal with a financial transaction.
I told the woman from the billing department that the hospital had my insurance information and I would pay anything that wasn’t covered after the bill was submitted to my health insurer. She insisted I had to pay a $500 deposit today.
“Are you going to throw my son out of the hospital if I don’t pay you $500 today?” I snapped, already knowing the answer to the question.
After a long pause, she said no.
“Then bill my insurance company,” I said, and hung up.
It wasn’t the last time I battled health care staff over money they said I had to pay.
Just last week, the receptionist at my doctor’s office told me I had to pay $471.25 for my 10-minute visit. Again, I told her to bill my insurance company and I’d pay anything I owe after that.
While we bickered, she fiddled on her computer. After a few minutes, she exclaimed, “Oh, it looks like you don’t owe anything. Your insurance will cover it all.”
Getting health care treatment for yourself or a loved one is stressful. Complicated costs and insurance policies make it even more so.
Had I given in and paid the hospital or the doctor when I didn’t need to, I would have had to wait for a refund from my insurance company that would have taken months at best. At worst, I would have had to keep track of all of the paperwork and contact them for the refund myself.
Copays are different. Those are due at the time services are rendered. But anything else should be able to be billed to you or, if you have insurance, to your insurance company.
When it comes to health care costs, there are a few simple things you can do to make sure you’re paying only what you owe… and sometimes even less.
- As I mentioned, refuse to pay anything other than a copay until they bill you or your insurance company. That said, you should pay the bill when you receive it. If you have a history of being late, they may rightfully insist you pay something before seeing the doctor.
- Go over the bill, especially if it’s from the hospital. Hospital bills are notoriously filled with errors. If they charged you $47 for Tylenol, be certain you actually got the Tylenol. If you were charged $500 for a test, make sure you received the test.
- Ask the doctors for a discount. If you’re paying out of pocket or if you have a high deductible, request a lower charge in return for paying upfront. Many of them will let you do this, especially if it means they don’t have to submit paperwork and wait for payment from your insurance company.
- Ask the doctor for free samples of medicine. Pharmaceutical reps give doctors lots of free samples. If your medication will be costly, your doctor should be happy to give you any free samples he or she has in stock.
You most likely wouldn’t give in to an aggressive used-car salesman. So don’t be shoved around by the billing clerks in a doctor’s office or hospital either. Push back and advocate for yourself.
My now-17-year-old son took a trip to the emergency room for a dog bite a couple of weeks ago. (It was nothing, and he was fine.) They didn’t treat him other than to give him a Band-Aid.
I plan on going over that bill extremely carefully… I feel bad for the hospital billing clerk that has to deal with me on this one.