Keep Our Families SafeHospital Billing Errors Can Send You to the Poorhouse
Several weeks after surgery to remove her right ovary, Leann Carrozzo received her hospital bill for the procedure. It was for over $25,000.
How on earth could a simple two-hour procedure cost so much?
When she requested the bill from the hospital, Carrozzo found herself with more questions than answers: Why did equipment account for half of the charges? Certainly some items could have been sterilized and reused, she thought. If so, why were they so pricey? And just what is an “endo-ta” staple and why did it cost $2,190?
But even after renegotiating her bill with both her insurance company and the hospital, both of whom say that they were merely punching in billing codes, insurance picked up $17,000 and the hospital had the temerity to try to bill Carrozzo for $2,148.
From a consumer’s perspective, hospital billing is a mystery, and, if you’re not careful, it can send you to the poorhouse.
Price can vary widely on simple routine medical or dental procedures like root canal, even in the same community. A single operation can generate numerous bills – from the hospital, the surgeon, the radiologist, the anesthesiologist, and maybe even the pathologist.
And what about those pricing codes and abbreviations that are on your bill? In an environment where you are billed for everything from a rubber glove to a gauze pad, one incorrect keystroke can significantly change the tally.
The real tragedy is that these billing errors serve to only exacerbate American families’ existing frustration with our nation’s troubled health care system. Those persons lucky enough to have insurance too frequently find themselves digging into their own pockets to pay for premiums, deductibles, and co-payments.
The unintended result too often is that people end up destroying their credit ratings. Medical debt now ranks as the second-leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.
Hospital billing mistakes have become so common that it is no surprise that a niche industry has evolved to help consumers decipher their bills and detect problems with billing.
Pat Palmer founded Medical Billing Advocates of America (http://www.billadvocates.com/) to provide consumers a way to double-check their hospital bills. Primarily hired by individuals, large self-insured companies, and state governments, Medical Billing Advocates estimates that 8 out of every 10 bills contain multiple errors. Palmer has even found $400,000 in errors when it examined bills submitted to one self-insured company.
But you don’t need to be a professional to spot these errors. A recent survey by Consumer Reports found that average consumers are also often able to identify billing errors and that patients with over $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses were twice as likely to uncover these mistakes.
Congressional committees are currently investigating hospital billing practices and several federal lawsuits recently filed accuse not-for-profit hospitals of failing to fulfill their charitable obligations.
But in the meantime, double, triple and even quadruple-check your hospital bills, and if you think there is an error, don’t be afraid to bring it to your hospital’s attention.