Monday, July 21

Update on Negotiating High Medical Bills

During our Las Vegas vacation I had a health scare when I swallowed a piece of meat down the wrong tube.  In trying to cough it up I got bronchitis, but before that diagnosis I was concerned I was choking.  The urgent care doctor refused to do anything (after charging me $100 to refer me to the Spring Valley Hospital  ER!) because he was concerned about the severity of my symptoms.  I went to the Emergency Room and sat in a room for three hours.  A nurse took my blood, a technician performed a chest X-Ray, and my vital signs were monitored.  The cost of those services was nearly $5,000 (that's not a typo!), but after the insurance benefit, I was responsible for almost $3,000.  Since I have a high-deductible plan, the only benefit of having insurance in a case like this is that I pay a lower rate that the insurer has negotiated.  I am responsible for 100% of the bill until my medical costs exceed $6,500 in a calendar year.

After receiving the first of three bills,  my initial thought was that an error had been made.  No one pays $5,000 for bloodwork and a single X-ray, do they?  I called the hospital's billing department.  One trick they use to discourage you is make you wait on hold.  It was 40 minutes before I spoke with a live person, and every 20 seconds I was encouraged by a recorded voice to make payment online or through the automated system.  When I finally spoke with someone, I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.  The employee was not helpful at all, insisting that my bill was accurate and that they absolutely do no discounting.  She did offer me a convenient payment plan, but she missed the point that I thought they were ripping me off.

Yes, I said it.  The Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas ripped me off.  But rather than accept this nonsense, I did some research online.  I called in reinforcements in the form of a medical bill negotiator (I used My Medical Negotiator, but there are a couple of options out there).  It took some time, but the person I worked with, Dennis Dobecki, was able to negotiate a 30% discount.  That's not a huge amount, but it saved me $400 on the ER bill.

I also submitted the bill I received from the doctor who "cared" for me.  I saw him for about three minutes, and he never laid a finger on me.  Those three minutes were billed at $1,481.  I haven't paid it yet, but am crossing my fingers that My Medical Negotiator can work some magic on it, too.

4 comments:

  1. I agree with you about the hospitals charging big amounts and when you look at it the staff get very little of it. We pay auto workers more to build cars than hospital staff to take care of another human being. What is most important?

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    1. Steve, I'm with you, my friend. I assume medical malpractice insurance is one of the hidden costs that make it so expensive for patients when the staff are only seeing a fraction of the money.

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  2. We've been through this in Vegas, as well. Husband has a history of kidney stones, and after a week of shooting classes out in the (very hot) desert, he came down with incredible pain. Three hours in the emergency room got him a CAT scan, tests and finally the meds he needed. Final price for minimal care was about $7500, and because we also have a high deductible, we got to cover about $2500 of it. That means $142 a month for what has seemed like forever. But when someone you love is in pain, you grit your teeth and do it.

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    1. Cindy, that's just ridiculous. It sounds like you received the same "help" I was offered: a payment plan. I am in disbelief at how much medical care costs these days.

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