How to Protect Yourself from Being Overcharged at the Hospital
Health policy expert Simon Haeder talked to the morning show about the rising cost of the health care in America and how confusing your medical bills can get. Recently, the news has been filled with stories of how people are traumatized when they come home from the hospital and see the exorbitant amount of money they're being charged. From a $47,000 fifteen minute emergency flight for a child, being charged $600 to use a bathroom sink at a hospital ER and even an $18,000 for a nap and a baby bottle or what the hospital called a "trauma response." Medical bills have continued to rise, but the problem is many people assume that paying your insurance every month means when you have one of these emergencies you won't have to worry about the cost. As these three families in the examples above found out, there will still be the massive bill you'll be paying out-of-pocket when your insurance decides they've had enough.
The morning show spoke with an assistant professor at West Virginia University, Dr. Simon Haeder about his experience as a health policy researcher and someone who has had his own issues navigating the confusing world of health care bills in the United States. Dr. Haeder and his wife have recently had a healthy baby boy and went through the process of dealing with hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and government assistance programs. What he found out was the most under-served group of Americans was the average, middle-class family. He also found that getting an itemized bill of all of your expenses still doesn't mean you'll understand or agree with what you are getting charged for. $7,000 for the delivery room that they used for about a minute, $25 for two Tylenol and other outrageous costs that are unavoidable due to the fact you are stuck in the hospital.
You can read Dr. Haeder's entire article on his costly and confusing experience having a baby in the United States here.
During our interview with Dr. Haeder, he was able to give some tips to our listeners about what they can do to help protect themselves from "surprise billing" and other issues that come from hospital visits. The first thing Dr. Haeder recommended was for people to check their legal protections in their state. In Texas, the state has partial protections against balance billing by out-of-network providers in emergency departments or in-network hospitals. Check out the Commonwealth Fund for more information on this. Make sure when you ask for a copy of your bill, you get the correct copy of the bill and that the bill is itemized so you can see exactly what you are being billed for.
Contact the provider so they can also go over the bill in detail with you everything that is listed on there so you know exactly what each thing is. If something sounds incorrect, ask and don't be afraid to correct them. It could be a mistake on their end. Also, make sure you keep a log of every person you speak with along with the date and time of every phone call made. Keep this log as a reference to look back at when making future calls and as proof that you have been in constant contact with them trying to resolve issues with your bills. Most will also give you reference numbers for each of your phone calls.
And finally, if you are still having trouble you can also send copies of your billing statements into Kaiser's Bill of the Month Club. This is pretty amazing just to go through. Kaiser goes through and picks one hospital bill each month to investigate the prices, and questioning the providers, insurers, hospitals, and experts. I'd recommend this even to just read some of the other hospital bills, it might make you feel a little bit better about the bill you're having to go into debt for.