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Money

The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Reduce Your Medical Debt

Hospital bills are expensive. A single emergency room visit with x-rays can cost $1000 or more. If you need an MRI or a CT scan, it will easily add another $2000. A hospital stay without surgery for only a few days will run $5000 and up. Unfortunately, debt due to medical expenses is difficult to avoid. When you need medical treatment, you need it. It is not usually an expense you can save up for and just put off treatment until you can pay the bill with cash at the time of service. But you can look for ways to reduce your bills and in turn, your debt.

I have spent the past 4 years fighting an $18,000 hospital bill for my husband's dental surgery. He has Medicare and full coverage on my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy as well as dental insurance. In effect, he should not have to pay more than the BCBS policy copay for any office visit or hospital stay.

He has a rare condition that requires that ordinary dental work such as fillings be performed under general anesthesia with special medications. Prior to scheduling the surgery, I met with the finance office to make sure that they had notified all of the insurance companies correctly and included an exception notice as insurance does not generally pay for dental surgery. I was assured it was all done correctly and the pre-authorizations had been obtained.

As you can guess, nothing was billed correctly. They billed my insurance first, even though it was supposed to pay after Medicare was done paying their share. They forgot to send the exception notice to Medicare. As a result, Medicare said it would not pay and under the terms of Medicare, I did not have to pay either, since the billing error was the hospital's fault. My BCBS and the dental insurance company eventually picked up a lot of the tab, but the Medicare snafu left a $6000 tab in my name.

I have spent countless hours and many certified letters trying to explain to the hospital why I do not owe them any money. It was well worth it, as I finally got them to reduce the bill to under $200. I finally just paid that in order to be done with it. But, I had to take the time to read the Medicare and BCBS policies and fight for the reduction. Imagine how many people would not have realized that the money was not owed and would have just paid it based on the hospital's word that they owed it?

So here is the advice I can pass on after my ordeal - if you have medical bills, always make sure they are accurate. You would be surprised at how often you are charged improperly. My husband was billed for multiple ice packs – which you or I would have used after dental surgery to keep our faces from looking like watermelons. However, due to his medical condition, he is forbidden to use ice. I was able to have those charges removed from his bill. Always request a detailed copy of your bill and make sure that you actually received every service, medication and supply listed.

For those of you with health insurance, read the fine print in your policy carefully. Always request a detailed copy of your bill and make sure that you actually received every service, medication and supply listed. Then double check to make sure that your insurance company paid for everything it was supposed to pay for. Do not agree to pay for something that your insurance should have covered.

If you do not have health insurance, ask to set up a payment plan. Many hospitals will reduce the costs for someone without health insurance who is going to have to pay in case, so check with the billing office to see if your hospital offers this reduced cash rate.

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