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Ambulances overcharges

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Disclaimer: Material on this page is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.


Introduction

Price-gouging by ambulance services is a disreputable business, preying on people who suffer emergency illnesses or injuries. Insurers  fight back by reimbursing patients a set amount,  threw patients under the bus: ambulances use shady collection companies to force patients to make up the difference between the insurers’ rate and the ambulance’s and use specialized ambulance charges collection for this purpose, such as infamous Revenue Guard

Here is an old analysis of the situation(Payment for Emergency Ambulance Services)  From NY Department of financial services:

In accordance with the above, if the insurance contract provides major medical or similar comprehensive-type coverage, it must include coverage for prehospital emergency medical services for the treatment of an emergency condition when such services are provided by an ambulance service issued a certificate to operate pursuant to section three thousand five of the public health law. The insurer must provide coverage for emergency ambulance services based upon the rates negotiated between the insurer and the provider of such services. If no participating provider contract exists, the insurer must pay for the services at the usual and customary charge, which shall not be excessive or unreasonable.

Once the insurer makes payment at the usual and customary charge, the provider must accept such payment as payment in full. The provider may not bill the patient directly for emergency ambulance services for the balance of a bill, except for the collection of copayments, coinsurance or deductibles that the insured is responsible for under the terms of the insurance contract.

Please note that N.Y. Ins. Law §§ 3216(h)(24), 3221(l)(15) and 4303(aa) (McKinney Supp. 2006) are applicable only to insurance contracts that provide major medical or similar comprehensive-type coverage. Thus, if such a contract is not involved, these provisions do not apply and there is no prohibition in the Insurance Law against the ambulance company billing the insured directly. In addition, these provisions do not address a situation in which a New York authorized insurer or HMO has denied payment entirely for emergency ambulance services (i.e. where the insurer or HMO states that coverage was not in effect or that treatment was not medically necessary). In such cases, the ambulance company may bill the patient directly, subject to the remedies available to the patient.

If the ambulance company or patient disputes a payment made by the insurer or HMO as not constituting the usual and customary charge or disputes the fact that no payment was made, the ambulance company or patient may raise the issue with the insurer or HMO and/or file a complaint with the Department's Consumer Services Bureau.

Lastly, the New York Attorney General's Office has conducted an investigation on balance billing by ambulance companies. For further information, the inquirer was directed to contact the Attorney General's Office at (518)474-7330 or access their web site which is located at http://www.oag.state.ny.us .

This opinion does not provide an analysis of the No-Fault Insurance Law, which would result in a different analysis and conclusion, since the inquirer already had OGC Opinions on this subject. 1 Please note also that this opinion is limited to an interpretation of the New York Insurance Law. No opinion is rendered on any other laws.

For further information you may contact Associate Attorney Pascale Jean-Baptiste at the New York City Office.

The technical term for this practice is Balance Billing and it is legal for most states. There are only six states that currently provide limited protection from this practice (and maily for HMO providers customers, not PPO customers like CIGNA).

How to handle surprise medical bills

It is better to try to avoid them abut with ambulance services this often is not possible and you are taken fot he ride, even if this is not a life threatening emergency.  One typical scenario is suspicion that you have a heart attack. Your wife or husband calls 911, then  911 dispatches the ambulance and here we go.  In most case the trip to ER room  in a family car is faster and safer (you need both ECG and blood test to exclude the possibility of heart attack),  but if you have a real hart attack movement is detrimental even if you take aspirin and nitroglycerin (which for patients at risk should be reality available in all situations and carries with them all the time), so unless you use an office chair to move to the car or use neibours help (you should, if this is a possibility), you take some (minimal in most cases) additional risk.  Patients at risk should have portable EKG at home, just in case. AliveCor Kardia Mobile ECG for Apple and Android devices is just $74 on Amazon, Heal Force 180D is $157

Here is the advice from How to avoid and handle surprise medical bills 

Check if your state protects consumers

If you do get a surprise bill, take action. Check with your state insurance regulator to see if your state has any consumer protections against surprise bills. Many states have laws that require HMOs to protect consumers from surprise bills, especially with respect to necessary ER services.

Fewer states have similar protections for other types of health plans, such as PPOs and EPOs.

At present, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and New York do have such protections against unexpected balance bills — either for out-of-network ER situations alone or for additional types of surprise bills. Generally, these laws provide that the consumer is required to pay only the amount he or she would owe for the services if provided in-network. States have different mechanisms for settling the balance, but they generally involve the insurer and the provider, not the patient.

If your state does not provide protection

If your state does not offer protection against surprise bills, check first to make sure the provider is really not in your network. Back offices and billing companies deal with many plans and sometimes make mistakes. Providers who are in your network have to accept the insurer’s contracted rate.

If the provider is out of network, do some research on an independent website, such as fairhealthconsumer.org, to estimate what the procedure typically costs in your locality. If your plan’s reimbursement is based on an amount that is less than the typical charge, you can use this information to ask the plan to pay the provider on the basis of at least the typical rate. If the out-of-network provider’s charge is higher than the typical rate, you might be able to negotiate with the provider to reduce your costs. You can try to persuade the provider to reduce the charge, or to discount an excessive balance bill, by showing the provider that his or her charge is above the typical market rate.

If neither the insurer nor the provider is willing to budge, do not be afraid to seek help. If you get your insurance through your employer, your human resources department may be able to intervene. Call your state representative or your local consumer protection office. With the right assistance, you might be able to reduce the bill, if not make it go away entirely.

Robin Gelburd, JD, is the president of FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit with the mission of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and insurance reimbursement. FAIR Health oversees the nation’s largest repository of private healthcare claims data, comprising over 21 billion billed medical and dental charges that reflect the claims experience of over 150 million privately insured Americans. Follow on twitter @FAIRHealth

The initial three steps

  1. Get organized. Create a spreadsheet to track all bills and all correspondence. Use registered mail only for communication.
  2. Send letter to the collection company which sent you the bill with the request to put you bill on hold while insurance company proceed your appeal.
  3. Appeal of the insurance company initial decision.  Your insurance provide should at least pay "in-network" fee for the service. It will do nothing more, but it should not do less.  Typically on $5K ambulance bill this is around $1.5K, sometimes less. At this point you are left with $3.5K to foot.
  4. If you are customer of PPO like CIGNA you are in substantial disadvantage even if you live in the state that provides some customer protection. And you need to understand that. PPO sucks as for balance billing. See Tips.

After your insurance company paid "in-network" fee for the service

  1. Check the state laws contacting the state department of insurance. In some states they provide meditation or dispute resolution process.
  2. Try to talk with your HR department. They might know something about such cases, or have a similar case in the past. You might also have a low charge legal help service from your company
  3. Ask billing company to provide you itemized costs for the service. 

    What should be included:

    • In an emergency, the ambulance provider that services the location typically will respond immediately to a call. The dispatcher will determine if only emergency medical technicians are needed, for basic life support, or if paramedics are needed, for advanced life support.
    • The ambulance crew will assess the patient's medical condition and check vital signs such as pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate, and will determine if transport to a nearby hospital emergency room is needed.
    • If so, the crew will provide needed care during the ambulance ride.
      • Basic life support care, typically for non-life-threatening emergencies, includes minor treatment, continued monitoring, and possibly administration of oxygen.
      • Advanced life support care, for life-threatening emergencies, also can include CPR, administration of medication, breathing tube insertion and other needed treatments.

    Additional costs:

    • Medical supplies -- for example, sterile gloves, needles, IV supplies, catheters, and saline -- used during the trip can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the final bill. For example, providers in Los Angeles County[3] can charge $24.75 for an oxygen mask, as well as for bandages, dressings ice packs; they can charge $45.25 for a burn kit or obstetrical kit; and can charge $80.25 for an infusion pump or pulse oximeter.
    • If a critical care nurse or respiratory therapist is required during an ambulance ride, it can add hundreds of dollars to the cost.

    Discounts:  

    • Some providers will negotiate a discount of up to 20% or more for uninsured patients who pay cash or pay within a certain timeframe. For example, Lincoln County Ambulance Service[4] in Kansas offers a 20% discount for payment within 30 days and a 10% discount to uninsured patients.
    • Woodburn Ambulance Service in Oregon offers a 10% discount for payment made within 30 days of service.
  4. If you can get it, use Medicare Part B reimbursement as the baseline. See  Cost of an Ambulance - Consumer Information —can give you estimates of how much health care services should cost in your area. Your insurer’s website may also provide a tool that will allow you to compare costs.

    Consider using Medicare rates as a guide; the federal health system for people 65 and older typically has the lowest reimbursement rate for hospitals and medical providers. They will never agree to  charge you Medicare fee, but this figure is a good starting point for any negotiation.

    Cost of an Ambulance - Consumer Information

    Shopping for an ambulance: 
    • The American College of Emergency Physicians Foundation[5] offers a guide to when to call an ambulance in an emergency. In a 9-1-1 emergency, the ambulance provider that services that location will respond; in some locations, there is more than one provider and it might be possible to request a certain provider.
    • For a scheduled transport, a hospital or physician should be able to provide a referral for an ambulance service. Or, the American Ambulance Association[6] offers a provider directory by state and city.
  5. Get in touch with professionals. 
  6. If this is only a part of your trouble try to contact the fraud division of your insurance company that investigates overcharging and improper billing. Try talking to them, too. But usually insurance company just pays a part of ambulance bill and let you hang dry. Only if you get additional charges like unnecessary cardiac stent ( see  Overuse of Cardiac Stents ) they can jump into action. 

Tips

Here is an advice from Anne Marie Bryn Mawr, Pa. July 12, 2011

As a practicing physician who is fed up with the way insurance carriers have managed to take over the delivery of health care in this country, my comments, I warn you, will be brutally frank.

The way the game is played, the providers of health care bill as much as they believe they can get away with.

That's because they are in business to make money - that's why it's called "for profit" health care. The insurance carriers try their damn best to find excuses to not pay as many of these charges as they can. Same reason. These two conspirators become co-conspirators when they play the game of "crap runs down hill".

That's when they come up with things like "co-pays", "deductibles", "co-insurance", and a whole host of creative ways of attempting to coerce the patient to pick up the tab.

So here's my advice. Don't pay any "balance billing" no matter what they choose to call it. Activate the pump that sends the crap back uphill. Write letters to the provider asking for specifics as to the balance billing.

Don't accept their response. Write again. Write to the insurance carrier and appeal.

Then write the provider with the appeal number from the insurance company. Keep it going round and round.

If contacted by a collection agency, write back explaining your appeals and that your financial condition won't allow you to pay without getting a disposition from your claim, and a better explanation from the provider as to why the procedure wasn't covered. Tell them to not contact you again.

Tell them that you refuse to pay until you get a decent explanation. Dare them to sue you. CC a law firm on all correspondence. Make the providers get hurt enough to fight against the carrier.

Bust up their friendship. Neither will hire a lawyer to get you. The publicity is the only thing they are afraid of.


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NEWS CONTENTS

Old News ;-)

[Mar 23, 2017] A "good start" at the expence of sick people for Collectly a new medical debt collection startuo -- they now collect twise larger share of debt then before. The founder is a former CEO of a debt collection agency and collected over $100 million before

Notable quotes:
"... our intelligent algorithm using state of the art innovative techniques of automation innovation disruption innovation disruption automatically sends orders to police and judges to prepare and serve pay or stay warrants, making sure your debtor goes to jail for their crime! ..."
Mar 23, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

"All 51 startups that debuted at Y Combinator W17 Demo Day 2" [ TechCrunch ] ( day one ). This is a good one:

Collectly helps doctors collect 2x's more debt than they have before. It's a business with $280 billion sent to debt but the debt collectors only collect on average up to 20%. The founder is a former CEO of a debt collection agency and collected over $100 million before

The acerbic Pinboard comments:
D Pinboard * Follow

@Pinboard

YC so far: surreptitious recording of phone calls, bus tickets for
the starving, debt collection, go live in a box, cow collars,
chatbots

11:41 PM-21 Mar 2017

He's not wrong. (And any time you encounter an online company with a cute name that's also an adverb, like collectly , run a mile, because it's a startup that wants to harm you. Kidding! I think .)

cocomaan , March 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Collectly is some really depressing stuff. Wow. More from their website.

3. Transparent collection
Our intelligent software automatically reaches out to customers that didn't pay in time, so you will never need to manually chase them again. And you can see every action on every case.

Totaly fair.

Totaly fair? I had to read it twice. Is that a typo? Or does it mean something?

Next up: our intelligent algorithm using state of the art innovative techniques of automation innovation disruption innovation disruption automatically sends orders to police and judges to prepare and serve pay or stay warrants, making sure your debtor goes to jail for their crime!

Edit: Weird, this went in the wrong place. Oh well.

[Mar 06, 2017] Something about the meaning of life under neoliberalism

Notable quotes:
"... Probably the most telling example on neoliberal transformation is transformation of healthcare. ..."
"... Mulligan's research shows how "market values come to displace competing notions of what is "good" or "right" in health care" (Mulligan 2010:308–309). She argues that quality in health care is not only a technical matter for evaluating the performance of systems, but, more importantly, it is a particular epistemology, a specific way of knowing. ..."
"... Managing for-profit health care systems successfully requires innovative mechanisms of population control (Abadía-Barrero et al. 2011), including people's acceptance of market principles. ..."
"... In this historical context, what is crucial is the understanding of the relationship between techniques of governance and the production of social inequality (i.e., an ideological domination reflected in people's support for political practices that are antithetical to their interests). ..."
"... James began his career as a broker on Wall Street. In 1984 he left the financial world and founded MultiCare, which grew to be a largest private EMS operation in the Northeast operating 140 ambulances in the New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia region. ..."
Mar 03, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
libezkova : March 03, 2017 at 03:51 PM
Something about the "meaning of life" under neoliberalism

Probably the most telling example on neoliberal transformation is transformation of healthcare.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/maq.12161/full

== quote ==

Several anthropologists have written about how "market ideology and corporate structures are shaping medicine and health care delivery" (Horton et al. 2014; Lamphere 2005; Rylko-Bauer and Farmer 2002:476).

Mulligan's research shows how "market values come to displace competing notions of what is "good" or "right" in health care" (Mulligan 2010:308–309). She argues that quality in health care is not only a technical matter for evaluating the performance of systems, but, more importantly, it is a particular epistemology, a specific way of knowing.

The information that is produced in technical public health policy terms, and, I would add, in technical legal terms, is "a knowledge-making practice that creates information about the health care system and for managing the system in new ways" (Mulligan 2010:309).

Managing for-profit health care systems successfully requires innovative mechanisms of population control (Abadía-Barrero et al. 2011), including people's acceptance of market principles.

In this historical context, what is crucial is the understanding of the relationship between techniques of governance and the production of social inequality (i.e., an ideological domination reflected in people's support for political practices that are antithetical to their interests).

According to Fassin (2009), Foucault's undeveloped concept of a Politics of Life can illuminate how in regulating populations and normalizing societies, moral ideas about the meaning of life and about how life is valued are enforced.

An understanding of moral definitions of human life must take into account how history becomes embodied, which then illuminates the political tensions that support differential values by which life is organized, represented, and responded to, for example through public policy (Fassin 2007).

== end of quote ==

See also

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsoZeg6CDRY

An interesting example of how pervert the healthcare system became in the USA under neoliberalism is proliferation of private ambulance services which are technically always "out of network" and after providing services (often non-essential) bill outrageous amount to lemmings who do not know how to fight the system. Average private ambulance bill is probably around $5K in the USA. If you have insurance your bill will be around ~$3.5K

This so called differential billing in now outlawed in a couple of states, but still is legal in most states.

This industry also creates specialized collector agencies that deal almost exclusively with collecting ambulance bills like Revenue Guard - Ambulance Billing & Financial Management ( https://www.revenue-guard.com/)

== quote ==

Revenue Guard Executive Team

James J. Loures, President & CEO
James began his career as a broker on Wall Street. In 1984 he left the financial world and founded MultiCare, which grew to be a largest private EMS operation in the Northeast operating 140 ambulances in the New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia region. After merging MultiCare with the publicly traded Rural-Metro in 2001, James then founded Revenue-Guard in 2004. The company has grown to be a premier provider of EMS revenue cycle and management services in the hospital marketplace, and currently bills over 120 million in revenue annually for their clients. James studied economics at Rutgers University .

Steven J. Loures, Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer
Steven Loures has 30 years of experience in the Emergency Medical Services / Mobile Health Services field and is considered an expert in revenue cycle, compliance and improving ambulance service operating margins. His real-world revenue cycle knowledge combined with 20 years of managing ambulance operations uniquely differentiates himself with a comprehensive industry perspective. His leadership has provided client confidence to initiate targeted change knowing his proven track record. He is the point of contact for all new and existing clients.

Prior to his current role Steven was the New Jersey Division General Manager of Rural Metro Ambulance. Rural Metro is a large nationwide provider of Emergency Medical Services. He was responsible for oversight of 350 employees, 6 operating locations in three states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York City. Additionally, Steven's responsibilities included all budgets, revenue cycle management, billing compliance, and Sarbanes Oxley financial controls.

Prior to Rural Metro Steven was a Commercial Lear Jet Pilot. The operation provided nationwide long distance critical care air ambulance services. Steven graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach Florida with his Federal Aviation Administration Commercial, Multi-Engine, and Instrument ratings. Early in his career path Steven was a certified NJ paramedic at age 21 and one of the youngest certified paramedics in New Jersey.

Stephanie Dall, Vice President of Finance
Stephanie joined Revenue-Guard in 2005 and is responsible for Finance, Administration, Compliance and client reporting. She has 20 years experience in finance and administration with Rural-Metro Inc. the leading EMS provider in the nation. Stephanie develops budgets and establish performance metrics for Revenue-Guard. Stephanie has a bachelors degree in accounting from Rutgers University.

Jennifer Aldana, Vice President of Revenue Cycle
Jennifer joined Revenue-Guard in 2007 to manage and run the billing services division. She manages a staff of 60 billing specialist processing over $120M in ambulance claims annually. Jennifer is a former revenue cycle manager at Rural-Metro The country's largest EMS service based in Scottsdale, Arizona. She handles all system customizations, ePCR integration and client support services. Jen studied at Pace University in New York City.

[Mar 03, 2017] U.S. Medical Coding System

Notable quotes:
"... Successful medical coders learn and follow coding guidelines and use them to their benefit. Often if a claim is denied incorrectly, medical coders and billers use coding guidelines as a way to appeal the denial and get the claim paid. ..."
"... Each diagnosis code has to be coded to the highest level of specificity , so the insurance company knows exactly what the patient's diagnosis was. ..."
"... I've helpfully underlined places where an "unusual opportunity for profit" might be spotted and amplified; after all, it's not the coder's job to set policy in borderline cases; that's for management. ..."
"... A pair of transposed digits in a medical identification number was the difference between insurance coverage for Mike Dziedzic and the seemingly never-ending hounding for payment by the hospitals that cared for his dying wife. The astute eye of a medical billing advocate who Dziedzic hired for help caught the innocuous mistake - the sole reason his insurance company had refused to pay more than $100,000 in claims that had piled up and why collectors were now at his doorstep. ..."
"... Had it remained unnoticed - as often happens to patients faced with daunting medical debt - Dziedzic said, he most surely would have lost his Rifle home, his way of life and had little choice but to live in bankruptcy. ..."
"... thousands of providers turned to more expensive Medicare billing codes, while spurning use of cheaper ones. They did so despite little evidence that Medicare patients as a whole are older or sicker than in past years, or that the amount of time doctors spent treating them on average was rising. ..."
"... More than 7,500 physicians billed the two top paying codes for three out of four office visits in 2008, a sharp rise from the numbers of doctors who did so at the start of the decade. Officials said such changes in billing can signal overcharges occurring on a broad scale. Medical groups deny that. ..."
"... The most lucrative codes are billed two to three times more often in some cities than in others, costly variations government officials said they could not explain or justify. In some instances, higher billing rates appear to be associated with the burgeoning use of electronic medical records and billing software. ..."
"... eight of 10 bills its members have audited from hospitals and health care providers contain errors. ..."
"... It's estimated that at least 3 percent of all health care spending – roughly $68 billion – is lost to fraud and billing errors annually. ..."
"... Accounts of medical billing errors vary widely. While the American Medical Association estimated that 7.1 percent of paid claims in 2013 contained an error, a 2014 NerdWallet study found mistakes in 49 percent of Medicare claims. Groups that review bills on patients' behalf, including Medical Billing Advocates of America and CoPatient, put the error rate closer to 75 or 80 percent. ..."
"... Most services don't get paid based on ICD, they get paid based on HCPCs/CPTs (healthcare procedure codes) which is what is shown in the nerdwallet image. Also revenue codes will be used for facility services (such as the room charge in image). ..."
"... ICD-Diaganosis codes just tell you what conditions the provider diagnosed you with. ICD-Procedure codes are sometimes used for payments but usually only on inpatient claims. ..."
Mar 03, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
From my review of Akerlof and Shiller's Phishing for Phools , November 25, 2015 :

As businesspeople choose what line of business to undertake - as well as where they expand, or contract, their existing business - they (like customers approaching checkout) pick off the best opportunities. This too creates an equilibrium. Any opportunities for unusual profits are quickly taken off the table, leading to a situation where such opportunities are hard to find. This principle, with the concept of equilibrium it entails, lies at the heart of economics.

The principle also applies to phishing for phools. That means that if we have some weakness or other - some way in which we can be phished for fools for more than the usual profit - in the phishing equilibrium someone will take advantage of it . Among all those business persons figuratively arriving at the checkout counter, looking around, and deciding where to spend their investment dollars, some will look to see if there are unusual profits from phishing us for phools. And if they see such an opportunity for profit, that will (again figuratively) be the "checkout lane" they choose.

And economies will have a "phishing equilibrium," in which every chance for profit more than the ordinary will be taken up.

We might summarize Akerlof and Shiller as "If a system enables fraud, fraud will happen," or, in stronger form, "If a system enables fraud, fraud will already have happened."[1] And as we shall see, plenty of "opportunities for unusual profits" exist in medical coding.

... ... ...

Here is the medical coding process, from the coders perspective, as described by MB-Guide, a site for aspiring medical coders :

Successful medical coders learn and follow coding guidelines and use them to their benefit. Often if a claim is denied incorrectly, medical coders and billers use coding guidelines as a way to appeal the denial and get the claim paid.

Hmm. "Their" benefit. Here are the guidelines:

I've helpfully underlined places where an "unusual opportunity for profit" might be spotted and amplified; after all, it's not the coder's job to set policy in borderline cases; that's for management. The Denver Post gives a horrific example:

Miscoding Fictions, frauds found to abound in medical bills

A pair of transposed digits in a medical identification number was the difference between insurance coverage for Mike Dziedzic and the seemingly never-ending hounding for payment by the hospitals that cared for his dying wife. The astute eye of a medical billing advocate who Dziedzic hired for help caught the innocuous mistake - the sole reason his insurance company had refused to pay more than $100,000 in claims that had piled up and why collectors were now at his doorstep.

Had it remained unnoticed - as often happens to patients faced with daunting medical debt - Dziedzic said, he most surely would have lost his Rifle home, his way of life and had little choice but to live in bankruptcy.

Finally, there's "upcoding," and if you are reminded of "upselling" you are exactly right. The Center for Public Integrity :

But the Center's analysis of Medicare claims from 2001 through 2010 shows that over time, thousands of providers turned to more expensive Medicare billing codes, while spurning use of cheaper ones. They did so despite little evidence that Medicare patients as a whole are older or sicker than in past years, or that the amount of time doctors spent treating them on average was rising.

More than 7,500 physicians billed the two top paying codes for three out of four office visits in 2008, a sharp rise from the numbers of doctors who did so at the start of the decade. Officials said such changes in billing can signal overcharges occurring on a broad scale. Medical groups deny that.

The most lucrative codes are billed two to three times more often in some cities than in others, costly variations government officials said they could not explain or justify. In some instances, higher billing rates appear to be associated with the burgeoning use of electronic medical records and billing software.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I can't quantify the impedance mismatches, the miscoding, and the upcoding. Regardless, medical coding is the key dataflow in the healthcare system :

"Roughly $250 billion is moving through those codes," [says Steve Parente, professor of finance at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota]. On top of that, about 80% of medical bills contain errors, according to Christie Hudson, vice president of Medical Billing Advocates of America, making already-expensive bills higher. Today's complex medical-billing system, guided by hundreds of pages of procedure codes, allows fraud, abuse and human error to go undetected, Hudson says. "Until the fraud is detected in these bills the cost of health care is just going to increase. It's not accidental. We've been fighting these overcharges they continue to happen and we continue to get them removed from bills." These errors, which are hard to detect because medical bills are written in a mysterious code, can result in overcharges that run from a few dollars to tens of thousands.

That "mysterious code" is (now) ICD-10, and it's the mystery plus the profit motive that creates the phishing equilibrium. Kaiser Health News quotes the Denver Post :

Experts say there are tens of thousands more like Dziedzic across the country with strangling medical debts.

Medical Billing Advocates of America, a trade group in Salem, Va., says that eight of 10 bills its members have audited from hospitals and health care providers contain errors.

It's estimated that at least 3 percent of all health care spending – roughly $68 billion – is lost to fraud and billing errors annually. Some say new reform laws will only make things worse." Others say that errors occur largely because of "the complexity of deciphering bills and claims weighted down by complex codes."

Even if the "trade group" is talking it's book, it's still quite a book . NBC :

Accounts of medical billing errors vary widely. While the American Medical Association estimated that 7.1 percent of paid claims in 2013 contained an error, a 2014 NerdWallet study found mistakes in 49 percent of Medicare claims. Groups that review bills on patients' behalf, including Medical Billing Advocates of America and CoPatient, put the error rate closer to 75 or 80 percent.

Gee, I wonder if the errors are randomly distributed?

Neoliberal "Consumer"-Driven Solutions

My guts have started to gripe, so I won't go into detail about how you too, the citizen , can learn medical billing codes if you want to dispute your bill. See this cheery post from NerdWallet on "How to Read Your Medical Bill :

Once you have the itemized medical bill for your care, you're ready to analyze it for mistakes and overcharges.

Your medical bill is going to be chock-full of codes and words you may not understand, so the first step is gathering resources that will translate them into plain English.

Ivy , March 2, 2017 at 2:29 pm

One useful adjunct to the coding discussion concerns other billing details such as meds. There is wide variability in prices charged, and when you see $160 for a single pill (e.g., Hexabrix) or $26 for a single Tylenol, then something is not right. Of course, that does not include any allocation for nurses, pharmacy or other potential costs, since those are rolled into other line items to decipher. When hospital billing reps are asked about the reasonability and basis of their charges, they spout the canned line about being in line with their local competitors.

Why not have some program with mutual insurance companies, removing in theory some of the profit that is driving the typical health care insurers?

TheBellTolling , March 2, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Most services don't get paid based on ICD, they get paid based on HCPCs/CPTs (healthcare procedure codes) which is what is shown in the nerdwallet image. Also revenue codes will be used for facility services (such as the room charge in image).

ICD-Diaganosis codes just tell you what conditions the provider diagnosed you with. ICD-Procedure codes are sometimes used for payments but usually only on inpatient claims.

_________________________________

Additionaly, coding also affects "risk adjustment" in Medicare Advantage and ACA payments and this form of payment does use ICD codes. They use the codes on the claims to determine how "sick"(has conditions that will cost more) each member is and give insurers more or less money based on the average risk scores of their members. Since it relies on coding this system is also subject to gaming.

In Medicare Advantage this is done relative to non-Medicare Advantage population, so if the MA plans are upcoding they get more money from Federal government. In 2010 CMS was given the ability to use some adjustment factors to MA payments to address the issue but I don't really know how effective it is.

In ACA this is done relative to all the other insurers in the individual/small group market(so all the money is changing hands between the insurers). More established plans generally do better since they have more data on members from before ACA to make sure they get coded in addition to resources they probably built from Medicare Advantage. This ends up disadvantaging smaller and newer plans like co-ops.
_____________

[Mar 03, 2017] How to Read Your Medical Bill

Notable quotes:
"... That is not the bill you want. To know what you're actually being charged for, you'll want to call the clinic or hospital and ask for the complete, itemized bill for all services you received, with codes. It is your right to know what you're being charged for, but you will probably have to call and request the detailed charges. The body of that bill should look more like this: ..."
NerdWallet
Clerical errors are more likely than you might think, says Gross, who has seen small mistakes in names and addresses result in huge billing complications. Before you move on, make sure your name, address, insurance information and dates of care are correct on the top of the bill.

header

When you receive inpatient or outpatient care, the first statement you'll receive is most likely a summary bill. Often, but not always, health care providers will send only a summary of charges with a final charge at the end. The body of the bill has a few generic categories and no codes, looking something like this:

summarybill

That is not the bill you want. To know what you're actually being charged for, you'll want to call the clinic or hospital and ask for the complete, itemized bill for all services you received, with codes. It is your right to know what you're being charged for, but you will probably have to call and request the detailed charges. The body of that bill should look more like this:

detailed

Once you have the itemized medical bill for your care, you're ready to analyze it for mistakes and overcharges.

Next, know what the codes are for

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of reading your medical bill, it's worth noting that there's more than one type of code that may be listed on your bill.

svccode

HCPCS Level I, or CPT Codes, are universal, used by all providers in the U.S. and consist of five digits that identify procedures or tests. Often, they are listed as service codes.

svccode2

HCPCS Level II Codes identify supplies or products used during your visit. These codes often start with a letter, rather than a number, but are also referred to as service codes.

[Jan 23, 2017] Consumer Guide to Health Care - Coping with Medical Bills and Debt Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Notable quotes:
"... Record the names and phone numbers of the people you are dealing with. ..."
"... Document the date, time, and results of your phone calls. ..."
"... Pay something - even a small amount - on each bill each month as a gesture of good faith. ..."
"... Be aware, though, that some services charge high fees and do nothing to really help reduce your debt. ..."
"... Don't ignore bills. Though tempting, this is not a good strategy. Hospitals and providers are more likely to negotiate with you if you contact them immediately. ..."
"... Don't transfer debt to a credit card. Most experts warn that this is a poor choice for paying off medical debt ..."
Jan 23, 2017 | dhs.wisconsin.gov
Unless you have successfully challenged your bill, you are responsible for paying all of your medical bills. If you cannot pay, here are some things to consider.
  1. Try to negotiate a payment plan. Your hospital or provider may be willing to accept smaller monthly payments. Keep in mind that your payments generally need to be reasonable and you must keep up with your payments. In its advice to parents of chronically ill children (link is external) , the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends the following:
    • Notify the appropriate offices quickly.
    • Keep in touch with your creditors.
    • Record the names and phone numbers of the people you are dealing with.
    • Document the date, time, and results of your phone calls.
    • Pay something - even a small amount - on each bill each month as a gesture of good faith.
  2. Get information on charity care in Wisconsin hospitals.
  3. Apply for Wisconsin Medicaid or BadgerCare Plus . If you are eligible, Medicaid may pay for some of your existing medical bills. Wisconsin Medicaid coverage can begin as early as the first day of the month, three months before the month you apply, if you would have been eligible in those months, so apply as soon as possible.
  4. Go for credit counseling. Be aware, though, that some services charge high fees and do nothing to really help reduce your debt. Make sure you are working with a credit counseling service (also known as an adjustment service agency) that is licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
  5. Be creative about finding help from outside sources. Charitable foundations, civic organizations and churches and community groups might be able to help. The Patient Pal (link is external) (PDF, 197 KB) from the Patient Advocate Foundation (link is external) includes some fundraising ideas for those with high medical bills.
  6. Don't ignore bills. Though tempting, this is not a good strategy. Hospitals and providers are more likely to negotiate with you if you contact them immediately.
  7. Don't transfer debt to a credit card. Most experts warn that this is a poor choice for paying off medical debt for two reasons:
    • The interest rates on your credit card will add significantly to your total payment.
    • Transferring medical debt to a credit card may affect your eligibility for Medicaid. Some medical costs can be deducted from gross income to determine your Medicaid eligibility. Medical debt on a credit card may no longer qualify as medical debt.
Dealing with collection agencies

If your hospital or other health care provider has turned your bill over to a collection agency, you are protected against harassment by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

If you have questions about your rights or the conduct of a collection agency, contact the Department of Financial Institutions at (608) 264-7969, or 1-800-452-3328 (in Wisconsin only).

Bankruptcy The decision to file for bankruptcy should be last resort. More (PDF, 129 KB) information on how bankruptcy works and the different types (link is external) is available from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Legal help

If you find that you need legal help to deal with your medical debt, the Wisconsin State Bar Association's website provides general information on finding a lawyer (link is external) and information on finding a lawyer if you have a low income (link is external) .

The Legal Services Corporation (link is external) , a private, non-profit corporation established by Congress, provides a list of Wisconsin local legal aid programs (link is external) from its website.

[Jan 23, 2017] Medical Debt Collections –Unexpected Health Problems Costs

Jan 23, 2017 | www.debt.org

Medical debt collectors must abide by specific regulations, as set forth by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act . Collectors cannot harass or lie to debtors, or perform any other practices deemed unfair.

[Jan 23, 2017] Medical Debt Collection

You can get a free Kindle version of "Debt Collection Answers" ebook on Amazon here .
Notable quotes:
"... We have heard from consumers who first hear about a medical bill from a collection agency. There is no federal law that protects you from this type of situation. ..."
Jan 23, 2017 | www.debtcollectionanswers.com
Having even a small medical debt reported as past due or in collections can seriously damage your credit history, you may be tempted to pay just to protect your credit.

Some medical providers may even try to pressure you into paying your debt owe by refusing to provide you (or one of your family members) with additional medical care until you do. Some of them may even refuse you future care while you are paying off your debt through an installment plan! Others may have a policy that as long as you owe them money, you must pay up-front for all future medical services they provide to you.

Warning: Aggressive medical providers can be a special problem for seniors living on fixed incomes when their spouses have been hospitalized or have accumulated a large outstanding bill with one or more of their doctors.


When Can I Be Sent to Collections On a Medical Bill?

If at all possible, you want to keep a medical bill out of collections. Once it is turned over to a collection agency, it will likely appear on your credit reports as a collection account and damage your credit rating.

Your medical debt may be turned over to collections:

How can you protect yourself from medical debt collection? Don't ignore medical bills. Talk to the medical provider. Get everything in writing, or follow up in writing yourself

... ... ...

If You Have Insurance and Your Insurer Refuses to Pay All or a Portion of Your Medical Bills

It's not unusual for health insurers to deny coverage for medical care. If that happens to you and you believe that the care should be covered, or if your insurer pays some but not all of your medical bill and you believe it should cover the entire bill, here's what we recommend:

[Jan 23, 2017] In debt and afraid: dealing with debt collectors

Notable quotes:
"... The CFPB says debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry affecting 70 million consumers. People are most often contacted about medical and credit card debt. And more consumers complain to the CFPB about debt collection than any other financial product or service. ..."
"... Debt collectors can contact you by phone, letter, email or text message, as long as they follow the rules and disclose that they are debt collectors. It's against the law for a debt collector to pretend to be someone else to harass, threaten or deceive you. ..."
"... Collectors cannot lie to collect a debt, by falsely representing themselves or the amount you owe. And other than trying to obtain information about you, such as a telephone number or whereabouts, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney. ..."
"... Also when you pay them off keep the document marked paid in full or zero balance or whatever else the send you on file including your financial proof (canceled check, money order, credit card receipt) keep it until you die! ..."
"... Debt industry buys billions of dollars of dead debt. 90% does end up as default judgement because scared debtors do not have the money to hire a attorney or do not know what to do. The other 10% of debtors who hire attorneys are off the hook. ..."
"... Consumer debts are self inflicted foolishness, medical debts aren't, but just goes to show the Empire is ran by business interests who refuse to allow any type of universal medical and have installed a system that allows them profits for illness and death ..."
Jan 23, 2017 | finance.yahoo.com
Sarah Skidmore Sell, AP Personal Finance Writer

It's a scary place to be - in debt and afraid.

A new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report found that more than one in four consumers felt threatened when contacted by debt collectors. The first-ever national survey of consumer experiences with debt collectors found consumers often faced calls that came too often, at odd hours and contained warnings of jail time and other threats. Some were contacted for debts they didn't owe. And many said when they asked the collector to stop contacting them, the request was ignored.

CFPB Director Rich Cordray said the report casts a "troubling light" on the industry, and that the bureau is working to stop abuses. But what are your rights when facing off with a debt collector?

A few things to know:

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

The CFPB says debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry affecting 70 million consumers. People are most often contacted about medical and credit card debt. And more consumers complain to the CFPB about debt collection than any other financial product or service.

The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, also said debt collectors generate more complaints to its offices than any other industry. While many debt collectors are careful to comply with consumer protection laws, some engage in illegal practices.

YOU ARE PROTECTED

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides protection for those being pursued for personal debts, such as money owed on a credit card account, an auto loan or a mortgage. It doesn't cover debts incurred to run a business.

YOU HAVE RIGHTS

Debt collectors can contact you by phone, letter, email or text message, as long as they follow the rules and disclose that they are debt collectors. It's against the law for a debt collector to pretend to be someone else to harass, threaten or deceive you.

They may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as early in the morning or late at night. And they may not contact you at work if they're told not to.

Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you, according to the FTC. That includes threats of violence or using obscene language. Federal law also limits the number of calls a debt collector can place.

Collectors cannot lie to collect a debt, by falsely representing themselves or the amount you owe. And other than trying to obtain information about you, such as a telephone number or whereabouts, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.

YOU CAN TAKE ACTION

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many states have their own debt collection laws that vary from federal law, so contact your attorney general's office for help.

Gary G

They are debt collectors the lowest form of bottom feeding #$%$ on the planet.step one, NEVER tell them any personal information whatsoever.step two, get a phone number and case number so you can call them back.step three call them from a phone that can record the conversation (theres an app for that)step three, call them when you are really ready to talk to them Inform them the call is being recorded. let them know clearly what forms of contact are and are not acceptable.step four, get the pertinent information about the debt including the debtor any account numbers and any settlement offers they have. Still NEVER give away any personal information. once you have all the information you need end the call, if at any time during the call you feel you are being harassed or intimidated inform them it is not acceptable (remember you are recording the conversation) and terminate the call. call back later.Now you are in control and can make informed decisions.If at some point you want/need to work out a settlement NEVER finalize anything on the phone, GET IT IN WRITING. NEVER, agree to give them your credit card or banking information under any circumstances!!!once you make an arrangement keep the printed document with the arrangement on file for the rest of your life.

Also when you pay them off keep the document marked paid in full or zero balance or whatever else the send you on file including your financial proof (canceled check, money order, credit card receipt) keep it until you die!

steven

Based on personal experience, the worst debt collectors are of the medical variety. Two years of a fatal ovarian cancer case overwhelmed not only my finances, but jeopardized my mental health as well. The only thing that kept me going was the necessity of showing up for work, and the support of coworkers and (may I say this?) my managers as well.

Mark

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be gutted under the GOP agenda. So the next time some cable company, Wall Street bank, or some other huge corporation screws you over, you'll have no recourse and you'll be on your own.

pfk

I find tgheses stories and the ads on TV (If you owe $1000 to IRS..., If you have more than $5,00 credit card debt, Reduce $50,00 debt to $5000..., etc) to e morally contemptible. If you cannot afford something do not buy it; if you have a job, pay your IRS taxes, etc. I'm tired paying extra for everything I buy or do for these people who spend and expect someone else (me) to pay.

a

hogwash! To scare off a junk debt buyer attorney all you need to do is make one call to your attorney. Many of you collectors "start fake lawsuits" to coerce debtors to pay. With no filing numbers, court stamps, etc... Once the debtor's attorney files a 'notice of appearance' and asks for a real lawsuit/trial, what happens? The creditor never files the lawsuit. Why? Because the junk debt buyer has to PROVE IT. The JDB creditor has no original contract signed to prove the debt exists, no chain of assignment/invoice to show they have standing to sue (own the debt) nor the account statements to verify what is owed. They are hoping at best for default judgements.

Debt industry buys billions of dollars of dead debt. 90% does end up as default judgement because scared debtors do not have the money to hire a attorney or do not know what to do. The other 10% of debtors who hire attorneys are off the hook. You see Junk Debt Buyers buy debt with no contract signed by debtors, have no invoice they even own this particular debt in detail and no account statements to verify correct amount owed.

So debtors, beware, pay the few hundred dollars to your attorney to ask for a lawsuit and notice of appearance and see how fast that debt collector disappears. 99% of junk debt buyers/creditors buy unwarranted debt and CAN NOT PROVE IT IN COURT. There is a disclaimer on the debt stating there is no contract, invoice that it is sold nor account statements offered.

Just sue these junk debt buyers and they go away. If they sell the debt to another JDB again sue again and they drop the debt again. Resold debt has even less chance of winning in court because even less proof is available every time it is sold.

But DO NOT AVOID the fake lawsuit. If you do the creditor gets the default judgement and will garnish wages, lien your house, and will win. Now if the original creditor files the lawsuit you will most likely lose and owe (they have all the proof in their records). So in this case make a settlement offer of lump sum repay or payments you can afford.

Call me scum or whatever but I have used this strategy and it works. After a few decades of paying usurious interest rates I have some cash finally coming back; and no need to file bankruptcy. After 7 years it drops off your credit report and credit score goes way up. Make it anywhere to 4-7 years (depending on your state law timeframe) and the statute of limitations kicks in and money not legally owed any longer. Just do not make any payments on it to renew statute of limitations. No problems! Hell I gambled the money away anyway, how was I suppose to get it back -Ha, Ha. Joke was on the JDB in my case!

Gregory

Very poor article. Take it from some one who was being threatened for some one else's debt. A certified letter to the debt collector explaining you do not owe the debt means that once they receive the letter they can no longer contact you.

Violation of that law carries a 10,000 dollar fine. If the amount is in dispute the same tactic works, except they can contact you with the proof of what you owe. A lot times this involves too much work and they do not pursue it. So if they do not pursue it once the Statute of Limitations is over the debt can no longer be collected.

The limit varies by State Law and amount. Finally be aware that uncollected debts are often sold and the new "owner" of the debt may try to collect on it. Again a certified letter stops them as you have proof of notification that the debt is not owed. I hope this helps the victims out there.

Chub

Buying debt has become a large industry that attracts a lot of crooks. Companies buy debt for as little as a dime on the dollar! The original lender benefits because they are getting a little something out of a debt that they have no hope of collecting. The buyer of the debt benefits because the potential profit is very

Many of the people buying debt aren't your traditional debt collection agency. They are many times just an individual with a cell phone who could bend the rules because they can change their name and location as easy as you can report their activity. Many times you are just dealing with thugs with cellphones. If you owe them, don't be afraid to offer a lesser amount because they had bought the debt so cheap that they may still make a pretty good profit.

Chief_blamestormer

Realize that some debtors never borrowed a dime. It could be the result of a civil judgement. If you think all civil judgements are fair, then have a look at the cases in your local courthouse, or serve a couple rounds of jury duty.

W, 19 hours ago

Industry? There's nothing industrious about. Bill collectors are mostly thugs who can't get real jobs so they have to leverage their values off other people's misery. Consumer debts are self inflicted foolishness, medical debts aren't, but just goes to show the Empire is ran by business interests who refuse to allow any type of universal medical and have installed a system that allows them profits for illness and death , which is similar to a developing country, not a developed superpower.

[Jan 12, 2017] Almost six in 10 Americans don't have enough savings to pay for a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill

Jan 12, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Class Warfare

"In a report from Bankrate.com, the firm found that almost six in 10 Americans don't have enough savings to pay for a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill" [ 247 Wall Street ]. "While Millennials may be looked down on by older demographics, they are the most equipped generation to pay for an unexpected expense using their savings. It was found that 47% of those within the ages of 18 to 29 responded that they would use their savings to cover such a burden, up from 33% in 2014." I'd argue that's not virtue, but a rational response to the neoliberal destruction of universal benefits and government services generally.

Knifecatcher , January 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Re: Bankrate story – is there such thing as a $1k ER bill anymore? We paid nearly $3k for our unexpected trip, which involved 15 minutes with the doc, no tests or scans, and only a single dose of Childrens' Tylenol for consumables. (5 year old tried to poke his eye out with a stick and failed – but only just).

And of course our crapified insurance hadn't hit the deductible so we had to pay the whole bill out of pocket.

Vatch , January 12, 2017 at 2:31 pm

I'm lucky - I only have a $150 deductible, which is what I paid when I needed five stitches in my hand last year. The total bill was "only" about $1250, probably because I never saw an actual doctor. A nurse practitioner sewed me up. The explanation of benefits from the insurance company later showed that they only paid the hospital about one third of the billed price. I'm sorry that you had to pay the whole thing; I guess the insurance companies only enforce their standard payable fees when it's their money on the line.

optimader , January 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm

The kids I grew up with, that would have been crazy-glue/packaging-tape unless a finger articulation was compromised

http://morethanjustsurviving.com/stitches-bandages-or-super-glue/

btw..Animal bites should be left open and bandaged and treated w/ antibiotic so they heal from the inside out..

I remember in my misspent college youth an idiot scuba diver in Honduras (feeding a moray eel cheese wiz out of a can, guess what happened when she ran out?) who came to my friend's dad (a surgeon) insisting he sew her up.
He only bandaged her with butterfly bandages and gave her some kick-ass antibiotics. She was sure she was being undeserved (w/ gratis treatment) because he refused to sew her up, potentially trapping an infection.

ian , January 12, 2017 at 2:43 pm

I had a similar experience: 3 stitches on my sons finger. Treated by nurse (no doc), sutures and lidocaine was $1800. It got me wondering about how anyone could hope to reform health care when the accounting is so completely out of whack with reality.

[Jan 12, 2017] 200PM Water Cooler 1-12-2017 naked capitalism

Jan 12, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Class Warfare

"Hierarchies aren't natural phenomena within the human race. Outside of parenting, human beings aren't born with the inclination to be ruled, controlled, 'managed,' and 'supervised' by other human beings" [ The Hampton Institute ]. Hierarchies are artificial constructs designed to serve a purpose. They are a necessity within any society that boasts high degrees of wealth and power inequities. They are a necessity for maintaining these inequities and ensuring they are not challenged from below."

"In a report from Bankrate.com, the firm found that almost six in 10 Americans don't have enough savings to pay for a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill" [ 247 Wall Street ]. "While Millennials may be looked down on by older demographics, they are the most equipped generation to pay for an unexpected expense using their savings. It was found that 47% of those within the ages of 18 to 29 responded that they would use their savings to cover such a burden, up from 33% in 2014." I'd argue that's not virtue, but a rational response to the neoliberal destruction of universal benefits and government services generally.

"[A] good deal of [Wallace] Stevens's poetic output conveyed a feeling of sehnsucht ("inconsolable longing"). For example, in 'Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz,' Stevens writes of American southerners (although the words just as easily apply to their author) as 'voices crying without knowing for what, / Except to be happy, without knowing how.' The object of Stevens's inconsolable longing changed over time. In his early professional days, when he first moved to New York City, it was his hometown of Reading, Pa. Writing to his future wife, Elsie, Stevens lamented that he 'lost a world' when he left there" [ The American Conservative ].

Knifecatcher , January 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Re: Bankrate story – is there such thing as a $1k ER bill anymore? We paid nearly $3k for our unexpected trip, which involved 15 minutes with the doc, no tests or scans, and only a single dose of Childrens' Tylenol for consumables. (5 year old tried to poke his eye out with a stick and failed – but only just).

And of course our crapified insurance hadn't hit the deductible so we had to pay the whole bill out of pocket.

Vatch , January 12, 2017 at 2:31 pm

I'm lucky - I only have a $150 deductible, which is what I paid when I needed five stitches in my hand last year. The total bill was "only" about $1250, probably because I never saw an actual doctor. A nurse practitioner sewed me up. The explanation of benefits from the insurance company later showed that they only paid the hospital about one third of the billed price. I'm sorry that you had to pay the whole thing; I guess the insurance companies only enforce their standard payable fees when it's their money on the line.

optimader , January 12, 2017 at 2:58 pm

The kids I grew up with, that would have been crazy-glue/packaging-tape unless a finger articulation was compromised

http://morethanjustsurviving.com/stitches-bandages-or-super-glue/

btw..Animal bites should be left open and bandaged and treated w/ antibiotic so they heal from the inside out..

I remember in my misspent college youth an idiot scuba diver in Honduras (feeding a moray eel cheese wiz out of a can, guess what happened when she ran out?) who came to my friend's dad (a surgeon) insisting he sew her up.
He only bandaged her with butterfly bandages and gave her some kick-ass antibiotics. She was sure she was being undeserved (w/ gratis treatment) because he refused to sew her up, potentially trapping an infection.

ian , January 12, 2017 at 2:43 pm

I had a similar experience: 3 stitches on my sons finger. Treated by nurse (no doc), sutures and lidocaine was $1800. It got me wondering about how anyone could hope to reform health care when the accounting is so completely out of whack with reality.

[Dec 30, 2016] Payment for Emergency Ambulance Services.

Dec 30, 2016 | dfs.ny.gov
The Office of General Counsel issued the following opinion on June 7, 2006, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.

Payment for Emergency Ambulance Services.

Re: Payment for Emergency Ambulance Services.

Questions Presented:

1. Pursuant to the New York Insurance Law, may a medical provider, such as an ambulance company issued a certificate to operate under N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 3005, bill a patient directly for prehospital emergency ambulance services where a New York authorized insurer or health maintenance organization ("HMO") has made partial payment of a bill?

2. Pursuant to the New York Insurance Law, may a medical provider, such as an ambulance company issued a certificate to operate under N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 3005, bill a patient directly for prehospital emergency ambulance services where a New York authorized insurer or health maintenance organization has denied payment entirely?

Conclusions:

1. Pursuant to N.Y. Ins. Law §§ 3216(h)(24), 3221(l)(15) and 4303(aa) (McKinney Supp. 2006), the ambulance company may not bill a patient directly for prehospital emergency ambulance services where a New York authorized insurer or HMO has made partial payment of a bill under an insurance contract that provides major medical or similar comprehensive-type coverage. However, if such a contract is not involved, these provisions do not apply and there is no prohibition in the Insurance Law against the ambulance company billing the patient directly for the balance of the bill.

2. Yes. The ambulance company may bill a patient directly for prehospital emergency ambulance services where a New York authorized insurer or HMO has denied payment entirely, subject to the remedies available to the patient.

Facts:

This inquiry is general in nature.

Analysis:

N. Y. Ins. Law § 4303 (McKinney Supp. 2006) applies to non-profit health plans and HMO's. Although HMO's are primarily regulated by the New York Health Department, their subscriber contracts are regulated by the Insurance Department as if they were subscriber contracts of non-profit health insurers. See N.Y. Public Health Law § 4406(1) (McKinney 2002).

N.Y. Ins. Law § 4303(aa) (McKinney Supp. 2006) provides, in relevant part, as follows:

(aa)(1) Every contract issued by a hospital service company or health service corporation which provides major medical or similar comprehensive-type coverage shall include coverage for prehospital emergency medical services for the treatment of an emergency condition when such services are provided by an ambulance service issued a certificate to operate pursuant to section three thousand five of the public health law.

(2) Payment by an insurer pursuant to this section shall be payment in full for the services provided. An ambulance service reimbursed pursuant to this section shall not charge or seek any reimbursement from, or have any recourse against an insured for the services provided pursuant to this subsection, except for the collection of copayments, coinsurance or deductibles for which the insured is responsible for under the terms of the policy.

(3) An insurer shall provide reimbursement for those services prescribed by this section at rates negotiated between the insurer and the provider of such services. In the absence of agreed upon rates, an insurer shall pay for such services at the usual and customary charge, which shall not be excessive or unreasonable.

(4) The provisions of this subsection shall have no application to transfers of patients between hospitals or health care facilities by an ambulance service as described in paragraph one of this subsection. . . .

N.Y. Ins. Law § 3221(l)(15) (McKinney Supp. 2006), which applies to group or blanket accident and health insurance policies issued by commercial insurers and N.Y. Ins. Law § 3216(h)(24) (McKinney Supp. 2006), which applies to individual accident and health insurance policies issued by commercial insurers contain identical provisions.

In accordance with the above, if the insurance contract provides major medical or similar comprehensive-type coverage, it must include coverage for prehospital emergency medical services for the treatment of an emergency condition when such services are provided by an ambulance service issued a certificate to operate pursuant to section three thousand five of the public health law. The insurer must provide coverage for emergency ambulance services based upon the rates negotiated between the insurer and the provider of such services. If no participating provider contract exists, the insurer must pay for the services at the usual and customary charge, which shall not be excessive or unreasonable.

Once the insurer makes payment at the usual and customary charge, the provider must accept such payment as payment in full. The provider may not bill the patient directly for emergency ambulance services for the balance of a bill, except for the collection of copayments, coinsurance or deductibles that the insured is responsible for under the terms of the insurance contract.

Please note that N.Y. Ins. Law §§ 3216(h)(24), 3221(l)(15) and 4303(aa) (McKinney Supp. 2006) are applicable only to insurance contracts that provide major medical or similar comprehensive-type coverage. Thus, if such a contract is not involved, these provisions do not apply and there is no prohibition in the Insurance Law against the ambulance company billing the insured directly. In addition, these provisions do not address a situation in which a New York authorized insurer or HMO has denied payment entirely for emergency ambulance services (i.e. where the insurer or HMO states that coverage was not in effect or that treatment was not medically necessary). In such cases, the ambulance company may bill the patient directly, subject to the remedies available to the patient.

If the ambulance company or patient disputes a payment made by the insurer or HMO as not constituting the usual and customary charge or disputes the fact that no payment was made, the ambulance company or patient may raise the issue with the insurer or HMO and/or file a complaint with the Department's Consumer Services Bureau.

Lastly, the New York Attorney General's Office has conducted an investigation on balance billing by ambulance companies. For further information, the inquirer was directed to contact the Attorney General's Office at (518)474-7330 or access their web site which is located at http://www.oag.state.ny.us.

This opinion does not provide an analysis of the No-Fault Insurance Law, which would result in a different analysis and conclusion, since the inquirer already had OGC Opinions on this subject. 1 Please note also that this opinion is limited to an interpretation of the New York Insurance Law. No opinion is rendered on any other laws.

For further information you may contact Associate Attorney Pascale Jean-Baptiste at the New York City Office.


1 See OGC Opinion No. 03-02-18, dated Feb. 18, 2003 and OGC Opinion No. 03-04-36, dated April 30, 2003; see also OGC Opinion No. 05-05-29, dated May 28, 2005.

[Dec 30, 2016] 20 things to know about balance billing

Notable quotes:
"... Balance billing is on the rise nationally. In 2011, around 8 percent of privately insured individuals used out-of-network care, 40 percent of which resulted in unanticipated medical costs due to balance billing, reports Health Services Research . ..."
"... Balance billing complaints are up 1,000 percent in Texas . ..."
"... The rise in balance billing is partially attributable to a lack of network transparency with patients. ..."
"... The New York Times ..."
"... Kaiser Health News ..."
"... In 2014 Aetna sued a physician at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., a hospital within Aetna's network, who did not notify a patient he would not accept Aetna's discounted reimbursement rate, according to the lawsuit. The physician charged Aetna $31,939 to treat abdominal pain in the patient. After Aetna paid the amount it deemed reasonable - $2,811, based on Medicare rates - the physician balance billed the patient for an additional $10,635. ..."
"... Montana Public Radio ..."
"... Sunshine State News ..."
"... The New York Times ..."
"... The New York Times ..."
Dec 30, 2016 | www.beckershospitalreview.com

Patients, caught in the financial crosshairs, often feel powerless to negotiate costs. Consumer advocacy groups and federal and state legislators are turning their attention to balance billing practices this year with renewed vigor, forcing payers and providers to find other ways to settle financial disagreements.

Here are 20 things to know about balance billing.

1. Balance billing is on the rise nationally. In 2011, around 8 percent of privately insured individuals used out-of-network care, 40 percent of which resulted in unanticipated medical costs due to balance billing, reports Health Services Research . In 2015, a nationwide study from Consumers Union found nearly one third of privately insured Americans received an unanticipated bill when their health plan paid less than expected for medical services within the past two years.

2. Balance billing complaints are up 1,000 percent in Texas . According to the Texas Department of Insurance , balance billing complaints rose from 112 in 2012 to 1,334 in 2015, an increase of 1,000 percent.

3. Lack of provider, network transparency. The rise in balance billing is partially attributable to a lack of network transparency with patients. In many cases patients are unaware they have received out-of-network care until they receive a balance bill in the mail. Nearly 70 percent of individuals with unaffordable out-of-network medical bills did not know the healthcare provider was not in their plan's network at the time of care, according to a survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times .

4. Emergency room services to blame, in part. A Health Services Research survey found in 2011, 68 percent of inpatient involuntary contact with out-of-network physicians was related to emergency care. These kinds of unanticipated medical bills may arise when a hospital participates in an insurer's network but its employed emergency physicians do not. For example, more than half of the hospitals in some Texas insurers' networks did not have a single physician on staff covered by the insurer, according to a 2015 study from the Centers for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

5. Balance billing and contracted physicians. Many hospitals use physician outsourcing firms for anesthesiologists, emergency physicians, pathologists and radiologists, or will bring in an outside assistant surgeon to help with procedures. In many cases, these physicians do not participate in the same network as the hospital, unbeknownst to the patient. When physician groups and insurers are unable to resolve reimbursement disputes, patients can be served with much higher out-of-network charges. In Texas, for example, the specialty services most likely to submit balance bills are anesthesiologists, lab services, surgery and radiology, reports the Texas Department of Insurance .

6. Payers will fight out-of-network physicians with lower reimbursement rates. Last year, health insurance giant UnitedHealthcare said it would scale back how much it pays out-of-network physicians who practice at in-network hospitals, accusing physicians of demanding excessively high reimbursement levels, according to Kaiser Health News . During a billing dispute with out-of-network Bayonne (N.J.) Medical Center, the insurer accused the hospital of charging out-of-network rates 10 to 12 times higher for a medical service than area hospitals participating in United'snetwork. If a payer refuses to match physician reimbursement rates, the financial burden is passed on to the patient. In the aforementioned dispute between Bayonne and UnitedHealthcare, the patient was balance billed $1,170 for a total of five stitches.

7. Insurers are narrowing networks in an effort to reduce costs. As insurance companies have narrowed provider networks to keep premiums down, the number of patients who inadvertently received out-of-network care has jumped at hospitals, particularly with regard to contracted physicians.

8. Payers have sued providers for 'excessive' out-of-network fees. Aetna has sued a half dozen out-of-network physicians in recent years, alleging gross over charging for medical services. In 2014 Aetna sued a physician at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., a hospital within Aetna's network, who did not notify a patient he would not accept Aetna's discounted reimbursement rate, according to the lawsuit. The physician charged Aetna $31,939 to treat abdominal pain in the patient. After Aetna paid the amount it deemed reasonable - $2,811, based on Medicare rates - the physician balance billed the patient for an additional $10,635.

9. Balance billing can occur even when a payer adjusts out-of-network emergency bills to in-network rates for patients. A patient recently accused Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., of balance billing his account for an out-of-network rate after the patient submitted in-network payment rates to Blue Cross Blue Shield. Owing to the medical emergency of his situation, Matthew Aitken said he received an in-network rate from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. However, Mr. Aitken alleged Duke proceeded to charge him for the remainder of the bill at the higher out-of-network rate, resulting in a bill nearly double that of Mr. Aitken's out-of-pocket limit.

10. Air ambulance billing disputes, complaints on the rise. In rural areas of the U.S. the high price for life-saving air ambulance flights has grabbed media attention as rural residents, faced with excessive balance billing, have turned to state and federal auditors for intervention. Those in rural areas often must rely on air ambulance flights in life-or-death situations in lieu of feasible ground transportation. Reimbursement rate disputes between payers and medical air transport companies have strapped patients with devastating medical bills. When Amy Thomson's newborn daughter was in heart failure, Ms. Thomson had to use an air ambulance service in rural Montana for transport to a more capable facility. At the time her insurance company, PacificSource, did not have an in-network air ambulance company near her family, reports Montana Public Radio . Ms. Thomson received a $43,000 balance bill from Airlift Northwest after PacificSource contributed a policy cap of $13,000.

11. Provider-based billing practices. Consumers have been increasingly vocal about surprise medical bills derived from provider-based billing practices. Provider-based billing allows a healthcare organization to bill patients for physician care in addition to a service charge for the patient's use of hospital facilities and equipment. In some cases, a patient may be responsible for the service bill if their insurance declines to pay or if the patient has a high deductible health plan. Large hospitals like Cleveland Clinic have faced increased scrutiny for provider-based billing practices. After paying a $30 copayment for in-network care with a Cleveland Clinic chiropractor, Julie Beinhardt reported receiving a balance bill of $3,000 for provider-based service fees her insurance plan refused to cover.

12. President Barack Obama signed legislation against provider-based billing. Last year, President Obama signed legislation outlawing provider-based billing at off-campus outpatient facilities. The legislation does not apply to existing outpatient centers that already engage in the practice, however.

13. The president's 2017 budget proposal includes a provision to eliminate surprise medical bills. Although details are minimal, the president's 2017 budget proposal includes a provision to eliminate balance billing privately insured patients. The administration would address the issue by requiring physicians who regularly provide services in hospitals to accept in-network rates for service reimbursement, even if they aren't in the insurer's network.

14. About a quarter of U.S. states have laws that protect consumers from out-of-network medical bills incurred by emergency care. According to a study from Kaiser Family Foundation , 24 states have implemented laws that restrict providers from balance billing in emergency care situations, including California, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, among others.

15. More states are proposing independent dispute resolution between payers and providers in balance billing cases. Independent dispute resolution establishes a legal space in which providers and health insurers can settle disagreements regarding balance billing without involving the patient. The states of Illinois and New Yorkhave arbitration methods in place, and Florida , Washington and Pennsylvania are currently considering a similar resolution methods.

16. New York has some of the strongest consumer protection laws. Under New York law , consumers are generally protected from owing more than their in-network copayment, coinsurance or deductible on bills they receive for out-of-network emergency services. Patients can complete an assignment of benefits form that absolves them of financial responsibility and allows the provider to pursue payment from the health plan in balance billing disputes.

17. Florida state legislature is currently embroiled in a fight to pass balance billing laws. Legislation to outlaw balance billing in Florida has continued to creep through the state legislature since last fall. Introduced in both the house and senate, the bills have sparked conflicting and outspoken opinions from patients, payers, hospitals and physicians. Hospitals have largely denounced the bill, blaming balance billing disputes on payers that demand allegedly unsustainable reimbursement rates, reports Sunshine State News .

18. The "End Surprise Billing Act". Federal lawmakers are making moves to outlaw balance billing nationally. Co-sponsored by 25 lawmakers, the End Surprise Billing Act would protect patients from balance billing who went to in-network facilities for emergency services, reports Consumerist . In non-emergency cases, it would require providers to notify patients within 24 hours if an out-of-network specialist will be involved in an episode of care.

19. Consumers don't know how to navigate the legal waters. According to a Consumer Union report, 57 percent of patients who encountered balance billing from contracted physicians within the last two years paid in full because they didn't know their rights to fight the bills. An overwhelming majority (87 percent) did not know which agency or department in their state government is tasked with handling complaints about health insurance. "So many times, people just give up [in surprise billing disputes]," Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives with Community Service Society of New York, told NPR .

20. The New York Times dedicated a series to consumer encounters with surprise healthcare bills. Elisabeth Rosenthal's series in The New York Times entitled Paying Til it Hurts examined the personal and financial implications of excessive, unexpected medical costs on Americans, their families and their healthcare consumption. Ms. Rosenthal's installments often feature individuals with unaffordable balance bills like Peter Drier , who was served a $117,000 balance bill for an out-of-network physician's assistant he never knew was present during surgery.

[Dec 26, 2016] 5 Ways to Lower Your Medical Bills Personal Finance

Notable quotes:
"... "One should know what the cost of the procedure is, and that is something that is just impossible to figure out before or after the procedure," Luthra says. "I had no way of knowing beforehand there were going to be these six different types of providers . . . sending me bills." ..."
Nov 29, 2007 | US News

Insurance companies aren't the only ones who can negotiate a lower price -- you can, too. Here's how.

By U.S. News & World Report

Sanjiv Luthra of Los Altos, Calif., suffered from the pain and fatigue of rapid-onset arthritis so severe that he couldn't walk 10 feet until he underwent double knee-replacement surgery in 2006. Now, two years later, he can walk and run, but he still suffers the fallout from another ailment: medical bills.

Six hours in an operating room, two knee replacements, medications and a five-day hospital stay added up to a bill of $80,000, Luthra estimates. That's not counting bills for an anesthesiologist, physical therapy, additional medicines and special exercise equipment to help him recover.

"One should know what the cost of the procedure is, and that is something that is just impossible to figure out before or after the procedure," Luthra says. "I had no way of knowing beforehand there were going to be these six different types of providers . . . sending me bills."

Luthra's insurance company was able to negotiate with the hospital so that it paid about $20,000, and he parted with about $5,000, including expenses outside the hospital.

But individual patients can haggle for lower medical bills, too. Here are tips on how to go about it.

Work up the courage to ask. It's not just insurance companies that can negotiate.

"The typical insurer gets about a 60% discount," says Gerard Anderson, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. "If you go into the hospital and ask the chief financial officer , you may get a 30% discount, but you have to ask for it. It's totally up to the discretion of the CFO how much they or the person in the billing office are willing to give you."

Although it's common to negotiate with a real-estate agent or car salesperson you probably never will see again, it's much more difficult to negotiate with a doctor you trust to make you well and to provide continuing care for your family. Only 31% of Americans have tried to negotiate the price of medical bills, a survey by Consumer Reports National Research Center indicated. But of those who tried, 93% have been successful at least once, and more than a third saved more than $100.

Explore low-cost treatments. Many doctors incurred large loans to finance medical school and probably understand the need to get a fair price as well as you do.

But even though almost 80% of physicians will prescribe a generic medication over a brand-name drug to save patients money, far fewer consider patient costs when recommending diagnostic tests (51%) or choosing between hospitalization and outpatient treatment (40%), according to a survey of physicians by the Center for Health System Change and the University of Chicago

If money is an issue, you need to ask your doctor if cheaper, medically sound options are available. The trick is to keep it friendly and ask nicely. For minor health ailments such as ear infections and pinkeye, drugstore clinics list reasonable prices upfront, with no negotiating required.

Find the correct person. Although they are heavily involved in treatment decisions, doctors may not be directly involved in other billing issues, so you need to find a person with the ability to adjust your bill.

"I would suggest the consumer go to the office manager," says Timothy Cahill, a health-care consultant in Louisville, Ky., who has negotiated hospital bills on behalf of patients. The office manager should be able to direct you to the person in charge of billing.

Offer cash payments. This could be a mutually beneficial solution for you and the medical establishment.

"Paying cash is worth a lot to a doctor in terms of time and trouble, and it is a lot less complex for the hospital to deal with," says Shankar Srinivasan. He is a co-founder and the chief technology officer of Vimo.com, a company that uses public records to figure out what prices insurers negotiate with hospitals. Cash, he says, saves hospitals the trouble of negotiating financing terms, paying credit card transaction fees and sending collection agencies after patients who fail to pay.

Scrutinize the bill and your insurance. If you don't have the cash to pay a large medical bill, you need to educate yourself about what your insurance should cover and try to negotiate a discount off the sticker price.

"As a consumer, just like a detective, you have to really understand the specifics of your insurance benefit plan, take the initiative of setting up conference calls (including yourself, the hospital and your insurance company) proactively, and you have to document everything," says Luthra, who is chief operating officer of the health-care-consulting company Benu. "You don't just pay the bill as is."

This article was reported and written by Emily Brandon for U.S. News & World Report.

[Dec 26, 2016] How to avoid and handle surprise medical bills

Notable quotes:
"... The average balance billed to patients was $622.55 , though the study reported bills as high as $19,603.30. But, ERs are not the only source of surprise bills. ..."
"... Even when a patient goes to a hospital for routine surgery, and takes care to choose an in-network hospital and in-network surgeon, the anesthesiologist, radiologist or pathologist assigned to the case may be out of network, and follow up with a surprise bill. ..."
"... If you have a serious medical emergency, your nearest hospital may not be in-network and all your treatment may result in out-of-pocket expense for high surprise bills. But, even if you visit an in-network ER, you have little control over the choice of doctor: By definition, you are facing an emergency, and must take whoever is available. ..."
"... Check with your state insurance regulator to see if your state has any consumer protections against surprise bills. ..."
"... At present, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and New York do have such protections against unexpected balance bills - either for out-of-network ER situations alone or for additional types of surprise bills. ..."
"... If your state does not offer protection against surprise bills, check first to make sure the provider is really not in your network. Back offices and billing companies deal with many plans and sometimes make mistakes. Providers who are in your network have to accept the insurer's contracted rate. ..."
"... If the provider is out of network, do some research on an independent website, such as fairhealthconsumer.org , to estimate what the procedure typically costs in your locality. ..."
"... If neither the insurer nor the provider is willing to budge, do not be afraid to seek help. If you get your insurance through your employer, your human resources department may be able to intervene. Call your state representative or your local consumer protection office. With the right assistance, you might be able to reduce the bill, if not make it go away entirely. ..."
thehill.com
Surprise bills are never a welcome surprise. Typically, they arrive after you arranged care from a doctor and a hospital that were both in your health plan's network, but then you were unexpectedly treated by one or more other providers who, unbeknownst to you, were outside that network.

When these out-of-network providers send you a bill for their services, you may have to pay the full amount out of pocket or, if your health plan covers out-of-network care, to pay the balance of the bill that your insurance fails to cover. And the balance bill generally requires you to pay more than the out-of-pocket amount you would have owed if you had been treated by an in-network provider.

Emergency rooms are one of the most common locations where healthcare results in surprise bills.

As detailed recently in an article by two Yale scholars in the New England Journal of Medicine, in more than one in five cases nationwide, ER visits to an in-network facility involved out-of-network physicians. The average balance billed to patients was $622.55, though the study reported bills as high as $19,603.30. But, ERs are not the only source of surprise bills.

Even when a patient goes to a hospital for routine surgery, and takes care to choose an in-network hospital and in-network surgeon, the anesthesiologist, radiologist or pathologist assigned to the case may be out of network, and follow up with a surprise bill.

Several states have already enacted laws to protect consumers against surprise bills, although some of the statutes protect patients only in the case of balance bills for out-of-network ER services for a serious medical emergency. Currently, the issue is being discussed in a number of statehouses. In the meantime, here are steps you can take to protect yourself from such surprises.

Prevent surprise bills

The best defense against a surprise bill is prevention. If you have a serious medical emergency, your nearest hospital may not be in-network and all your treatment may result in out-of-pocket expense for high surprise bills. But, even if you visit an in-network ER, you have little control over the choice of doctor: By definition, you are facing an emergency, and must take whoever is available.

However, for a planned surgery or other procedure, you probably have time to speak up. Make sure that your doctor and hospital are in your plan's network. Check with them and with your plan. Ask your physician and your hospital in advance if they can arrange to have only in-network providers treat you.

Some hospitals may have no in-network specialist for care you might require. Find out if another hospital in your area can provide all your necessary services on an in-network basis. In some areas, there may be no in-network specialists available of the type you need. In that case, inform your plan that its network lacks necessary services and find out if the terms of the plan or state law provide you protection from large balance bills in such circumstances.

Always refer to your plan by its exact official name. Often insurers have multiple plans with similar names but different networks. If you use the wrong plan name when inquiring about a plan's network, you may get a wrong and costly answer. Make your inquiries and requests in writing so you have documentation. Ask for the names of the providers who will be involved in your care, and check with your insurer and with the providers themselves to see if they are all in your plan's network.

Check if your state protects consumers

If you do get a surprise bill, take action. Check with your state insurance regulator to see if your state has any consumer protections against surprise bills. Many states have laws that require HMOs to protect consumers from surprise bills, especially with respect to necessary ER services. Fewer states have similar protections for other types of health plans, such as PPOs and EPOs.

At present, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and New York do have such protections against unexpected balance bills - either for out-of-network ER situations alone or for additional types of surprise bills. Generally, these laws provide that the consumer is required to pay only the amount he or she would owe for the services if provided in-network. States have different mechanisms for settling the balance, but they generally involve the insurer and the provider, not the patient.

If your state does not provide protection

If your state does not offer protection against surprise bills, check first to make sure the provider is really not in your network. Back offices and billing companies deal with many plans and sometimes make mistakes. Providers who are in your network have to accept the insurer's contracted rate.

If the provider is out of network, do some research on an independent website, such as fairhealthconsumer.org, to estimate what the procedure typically costs in your locality. If your plan's reimbursement is based on an amount that is less than the typical charge, you can use this information to ask the plan to pay the provider on the basis of at least the typical rate. If the out-of-network provider's charge is higher than the typical rate, you might be able to negotiate with the provider to reduce your costs. You can try to persuade the provider to reduce the charge, or to discount an excessive balance bill, by showing the provider that his or her charge is above the typical market rate.

If neither the insurer nor the provider is willing to budge, do not be afraid to seek help. If you get your insurance through your employer, your human resources department may be able to intervene. Call your state representative or your local consumer protection office. With the right assistance, you might be able to reduce the bill, if not make it go away entirely.

Robin Gelburd, JD, is the president of FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit with the mission of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and insurance reimbursement. FAIR Health oversees the nation's largest repository of private healthcare claims data, comprising over 21 billion billed medical and dental charges that reflect the claims experience of over 150 million privately insured Americans. Follow on twitter @FAIRHealth

[Dec 25, 2016] How to Fight Back Against Outrageous E.R. Bills

Two excellent resources-Healthcare Blue Book and FAIR Health-can give you estimates of how much health care services should cost in your area. Plus, your insurer's website may also provide a tool that will allow you to compare costs.
Notable quotes:
"... But the bill did come-all $9,000 of it. The ambulance company charged $6,500, including a $300 fee for the linens and a $30 charge for aspirin. The E.R. billed the remaining $2,500. "My mouth literally dropped open when I saw the cost," she says. ..."
"... "I've always heard emergency room visits were costly, but $9,000 for nothing more than a conversation that lasted one minute? That's robbery," she says. ..."
"... "Employers often try to stay away from filing a claim under worker's compensation, so it does not impact their experience rating or trigger an [occupational safety and health administration] review, but it would save her money." ..."
"... This piece is by Drew Anne Scarantino ..."
www.thefiscaltimes.com

It's no secret that hospital bills in the U.S.-especially ones from the E.R.-can often hit astronomical proportions.

According to a recent cost study conducted by researchers at Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the University of California, San Francisco and the Ecologic Institute, the median charge for an emergency room trip in the U.S. comes in at $1,233. But where it really gets interesting is when you look at the specific reasons for those E.R. visits: The researchers found that the treatment price for a headache could range from $15 to a whopping $17,797. As for a sprained ankle, it could set someone back a paltry $4 or up to $24,110!

So what gives with these wildly fluctuating price points?

For starters, most emergency room prices are inflated based on the rates at which insurance companies will reimburse the hospital on a patient's behalf. That's why a single aspirin can cost $30 per pill in the E.R., which is more than six times the price for a bottle of them at the drug store.

On the flip side, patients will often contact the hospital or surgeon's billing office to ask for a cost reduction, further adding to the inconsistency in pricing. It's a practice that often works in a patient's favor, says billing advocacy specialist Sharon Salters of Medical Cost Advocatea professional medical bill negotiation service.

And then there's also the fact that most hospitals offer discounts to self-paying individuals-especially if there's a risk that they might not pay at all.

So to help shed some light on the complexities of hospital medical billing for the average consumer, we asked three people to share their craziest emergency room stories, the even crazier bills that followed-and the steps they took to remedy them.

... ... ...

The Emergency: Head Injury
The Bill: $9,000

A few months ago, Amanda Harris, 27, of Morristown, N.J., fainted at work, hitting her head in the process. Due to liability concerns, her production company required Harris to take an ambulance to the emergency room, despite her refusal. "I didn't even have a cut on my head, just a slight bump. No headache, no nausea, no confusion, nothing," she says.

Harris waited for over an hour in the E.R. before her husband told the nurse that they were leaving. Minutes later, a doctor spoke to Harris for under a minute, confirming that she was fine to go. "He didn't do any tests-no light in my eyes, no blood pressure," says Harris. "I left thinking I wouldn't even get a bill."

But the bill did come-all $9,000 of it. The ambulance company charged $6,500, including a $300 fee for the linens and a $30 charge for aspirin. The E.R. billed the remaining $2,500. "My mouth literally dropped open when I saw the cost," she says.

RELATED: Hospital Costs Explode: Between $127 and $151 Billion

What This Patient Did: Harris called her insurer and fought the bill. Luckily, her insurance covered all but a $3,000 deductible-but she was too exhausted to push for more. "I've always heard emergency room visits were costly, but $9,000 for nothing more than a conversation that lasted one minute? That's robbery," she says.

What the Expert Says: Even though Harris didn't want to take an ambulance, Salters says that her company's suggestion was well-advised. "However, she should consider working with her employer to file the claim with her company's worker's compensation carrier," says Salters. "Employers often try to stay away from filing a claim under worker's compensation, so it does not impact their experience rating or trigger an [occupational safety and health administration] review, but it would save her money."

How You Can Avoid Outrageous E.R. Bills (Really!)

When it comes to a trip to the E.R., the reality is that there's usually no time to shop around and compare prices in advance. But if you do some research before an emergency happens, you could potentially keep costs significantly down.

The negotiation can seem like a lot of extra work, but the payoff can be tens of thousands of dollars in savings shaved off a potentially outrageous E.R. bill.

This piece is by Drew Anne Scarantino.

[Nov 24, 2016] How to Fight Back Against Outrageous E.R. Bills

Two excellent resources-Healthcare Blue Book and FAIR Health-can give you estimates of how much health care services should cost in your area. Plus, your insurer's website may also provide a tool that will allow you to compare costs.
Notable quotes:
"... The ambulance company charged $6,500, including a $300 fee for the linens and a $30 charge for aspirin ..."
www.thefiscaltimes.com

It's no secret that hospital bills in the U.S.-especially ones from the E.R.-can often hit astronomical proportions.

According to a recent cost study conducted by researchers at Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the University of California, San Francisco and the Ecologic Institute, the median charge for an emergency room trip in the U.S. comes in at $1,233. But where it really gets interesting is when you look at the specific reasons for those E.R. visits: The researchers found that the treatment price for a headache could range from $15 to a whopping $17,797. As for a sprained ankle, it could set someone back a paltry $4 or up to $24,110!

So what gives with these wildly fluctuating price points?

For starters, most emergency room prices are inflated based on the rates at which insurance companies will reimburse the hospital on a patient's behalf. That's why a single aspirin can cost $30 per pill in the E.R., which is more than six times the price for a bottle of them at the drug store.

On the flip side, patients will often contact the hospital or surgeon's billing office to ask for a cost reduction, further adding to the inconsistency in pricing. It's a practice that often works in a patient's favor, says billing advocacy specialist Sharon Salters of Medical Cost Advocatea professional medical bill negotiation service.

And then there's also the fact that most hospitals offer discounts to self-paying individuals-especially if there's a risk that they might not pay at all.

So to help shed some light on the complexities of hospital medical billing for the average consumer, we asked three people to share their craziest emergency room stories, the even crazier bills that followed-and the steps they took to remedy them.

... ... ...

The Emergency: Head Injury
The Bill: $9,000

A few months ago, Amanda Harris, 27, of Morristown, N.J., fainted at work, hitting her head in the process. Due to liability concerns, her production company required Harris to take an ambulance to the emergency room, despite her refusal. "I didn't even have a cut on my head, just a slight bump. No headache, no nausea, no confusion, nothing," she says.

Harris waited for over an hour in the E.R. before her husband told the nurse that they were leaving. Minutes later, a doctor spoke to Harris for under a minute, confirming that she was fine to go. "He didn't do any tests-no light in my eyes, no blood pressure," says Harris. "I left thinking I wouldn't even get a bill."

But the bill did come-all $9,000 of it. The ambulance company charged $6,500, including a $300 fee for the linens and a $30 charge for aspirin. The E.R. billed the remaining $2,500. "My mouth literally dropped open when I saw the cost," she says.

RELATED: Hospital Costs Explode: Between $127 and $151 Billion

What This Patient Did: Harris called her insurer and fought the bill. Luckily, her insurance covered all but a $3,000 deductible-but she was too exhausted to push for more. "I've always heard emergency room visits were costly, but $9,000 for nothing more than a conversation that lasted one minute? That's robbery," she says.

What the Expert Says: Even though Harris didn't want to take an ambulance, Salters says that her company's suggestion was well-advised. "However, she should consider working with her employer to file the claim with her company's worker's compensation carrier," says Salters. "Employers often try to stay away from filing a claim under worker's compensation, so it does not impact their experience rating or trigger an [occupational safety and health administration] review, but it would save her money."

[Nov 24, 2016] Legislature's ambulance bill is too costly

Notable quotes:
"... Price-gouging by ambulance services, including those run by municipalities, was always a disreputable exercise, preying on people who suffer emergency illnesses or injuries. ..."
"... The federal Medicare rate isn't usually high enough to cover all the ambulance costs, so the Legislature is right to go above it. But 300 percent is too high. ..."
The Boston Globe

When the Legislature finally produced a measure to prevent ambulance companies from gouging out-of-network patients and their insurers, it set a limit of 300 percent of the federal Medicare reimbursement rate or the ambulance's regular fee, whichever is lower. This is a ceiling that might function more like a floor, pushing ambulance firms to raise their rates to 300 percent of Medicare. It's a bad idea.

Price-gouging by ambulance services, including those run by municipalities, was always a disreputable exercise, preying on people who suffer emergency illnesses or injuries. And when insurers decided to fight back by reimbursing patients a set amount, rather than pay whatever the ambulance demanded, they, too, threw patients under the wheels: Ambulances expected the patients to make up the difference between the insurers' rate and the ambulance's. Few situations better illustrate patients' frustrations with the health care system.

So the unwanted task of deciding on an appropriate level of reimbursement fell to the state. And it should surprise no one that both insurers and ambulance services are lobbying for the best possible deal, while grumbling about government interference. Fire departments and other municipal offices that operate ambulances are hoping their friends in the Legislature can deliver a generous fee.

The federal Medicare rate isn't usually high enough to cover all the ambulance costs, so the Legislature is right to go above it. But 300 percent is too high. Patrick should veto the bill and ask the House and Senate to send it back to him with a lower price ceiling.

[Nov 23, 2016] 7 Tips For Fighting And Paying A Big Hospital Bill by Caroline Mayer

Notable quotes:
"... Also consider using Medicare rates as a guide; the federal health system for people 65 and older typically has the lowest reimbursement rate for hospitals and medical providers. Your hospital may not agree to charge you its Medicare fee, but this figure is a good starting point for any negotiation. ..."
"... don't hesitate to appeal its decisions. You'd be surprised how often carriers overturn their earlier rejections. ..."
Sep 17, 2013 | www.forbes.com

Conversely, you may be able to wrangle a cash discount for agreeing to pay your entire cost at once.

You may also be able to successfully bargain down the particular dollar amounts you've been charged.

Tell the billing department that if your insurance requires, say, a 20% co-payment to the hospital, you'll pay only 20% of the insurer's negotiated rate with that hospital. That's usually far less than the initial rate quoted - the figure charged to uninsured patients.

Go online to check the rates other local hospitals charge for the procedure you had. Then, if you find your bill was way out of line, use this data as ammunition to try to get your fees lowered. You can get this type of information at such sites as Clear Health Costs, Healthcare Blue Book and FAIR Health.

Also consider using Medicare rates as a guide; the federal health system for people 65 and older typically has the lowest reimbursement rate for hospitals and medical providers. Your hospital may not agree to charge you its Medicare fee, but this figure is a good starting point for any negotiation.

2. Vigilantly review the bills. "It's very common for hospital bills to contain errors and overcharges, so make sure you've actually received the services they said you did," Detweiler says.

Candice Butcher, vice president of Medical Billing Advocates of America, says if you're discharged in the morning (as most patients are), protest if you're socked with a full daily-room rate for the date you left the hospital.

And if you brought your medications with you, make sure you weren't charged for them by the hospital. "This frequently happens," Butcher says.

Also, dispute any additional fees on the bill for routine supplies, like gowns, gloves or sheets. These items should be factored into the hospital daily-room charge, because, Butcher says, they are "considered the cost of doing business."

3. Challenge your health insurer's decisions, when warranted. Keep track of any hospital bills the company rejects on grounds that the procedure or drug isn't covered by your policy. If you believe the insurer should be paying more, don't hesitate to appeal its decisions. You'd be surprised how often carriers overturn their earlier rejections.

4. Negotiate bills once you know how much you'll have to pay out of pocket. If you just want extra time to send the money, Dale says, "it is relatively easy to speak with hospital or clinic business office staff to arrange a payment plan."

Conversely, you may be able to wrangle a cash discount for agreeing to pay your entire cost at once.

You may also be able to successfully bargain down the particular dollar amounts you've been charged.

Tell the billing department that if your insurance requires, say, a 20% co-payment to the hospital, you'll pay only 20% of the insurer's negotiated rate with that hospital. That's usually far less than the initial rate quoted - the figure charged to uninsured patients.

Go online to check the rates other local hospitals charge for the procedure you had. Then, if you find your bill was way out of line, use this data as ammunition to try to get your fees lowered. You can get this type of information at such sites as Clear Health Costs, Healthcare Blue Book and FAIR Health.

Also consider using Medicare rates as a guide; the federal health system for people 65 and older typically has the lowest reimbursement rate for hospitals and medical providers. Your hospital may not agree to charge you its Medicare fee, but this figure is a good starting point for any negotiation.

5. Consider hiring a pro. Since hospital bills are hairy, messy beasts, it may be worth your while to bring in a patient- or medical-billing advocate (Detweiler recommends the advocacy firm Copatient.com, which charges 30% of what it saves you) or an attorney. "It's like hiring a CPA to do your taxes," Dale says.

Be sure you won't be required to pay this expert any fees upfront. Patient advocates typically charge 20 to 30% of your savings; some put a cap on their fees. Karis' firm, for example, charges no more than $3,000. Attorneys often charge 30% of the savings they achieve.

... ... ...

Caroline Mayer is a consumer reporter who spent 25 years working for The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter TWTR -0.69% @consumermayer.

[Nov 23, 2016] How Can I Negotiate A Sky-High Ambulance Charge On My Medical Bill by Christina LaMontagne

Notable quotes:
"... My husband suffered a heart attack when we were on vacation, and I called an ambulance. He's OK now, but we've been billed more than $6,000 for his 15-minute ride to the hospital. As it turns out, the ambulance service wasn't in our health insurer's network, so they paid only a small portion of the bill. We're making small payments on the balance, but the initial bill seems so high. The collector calls all the time to demand we pay the balance in full. Is there anything we can do to get the bill looked at and possibly lowered? ..."
"... Fortunately, medical bills are not always set in stone, and there may be ways for you to negotiate a lower balance. ..."
"... I recommend you first review an itemized copy of the bill for any errors. Look for duplicate charges, inaccurate service dates or incorrect mileage. If you spot any errors, take it up with the billing department immediately. ..."
"... Standard practice for insurers is to negotiate with providers to pay merely a fraction of the cost. ..."
"... Medicare negotiates, on average, a 73% discount. ..."
"... Negotiating with an ambulance service or any medical provider is not easy, but it is possible. Be persistent. If your efforts prove fruitless, you can always consider hiring a professional ..."
| www.forbes.com

... ... ...

Question:

My husband suffered a heart attack when we were on vacation, and I called an ambulance. He's OK now, but we've been billed more than $6,000 for his 15-minute ride to the hospital. As it turns out, the ambulance service wasn't in our health insurer's network, so they paid only a small portion of the bill. We're making small payments on the balance, but the initial bill seems so high. The collector calls all the time to demand we pay the balance in full. Is there anything we can do to get the bill looked at and possibly lowered?

Answer:

I'm glad to hear your husband is recovering, but I am sure the stress of an unexpected medical bill isn't helping him heal. Ambulance bills are notoriously costly, but yours seems to be inflated. Fortunately, medical bills are not always set in stone, and there may be ways for you to negotiate a lower balance.

I recommend you first review an itemized copy of the bill for any errors. Look for duplicate charges, inaccurate service dates or incorrect mileage. If you spot any errors, take it up with the billing department immediately.

Even if the bill is correct, you should still set up a time to speak with someone in the billing office-someone with the authority to negotiate on your balance. Go into the conversation equipped with the knowledge that Medicare and insurance companies rarely pay the hefty price tags that consumers see.

Standard practice for insurers is to negotiate with providers to pay merely a fraction of the cost. In the case of inpatient hospital bills, for example, a NerdWallet study found Medicare negotiates, on average, a 73% discount. While the ambulance service may not agree to such a large discount for you, coming to any negotiation equipped with such knowledge will put the company on notice that you aren't going to lay down and take its bullying or an inflated bill.

... ... ...

Negotiating with an ambulance service or any medical provider is not easy, but it is possible. Be persistent. If your efforts prove fruitless, you can always consider hiring a professional . A medical billing advocate is able to represent clients' interests much in the way an attorney would advocate for you in a courtroom. Their experience and expertise in the field can sometimes prove more effective (and less stressful) than taking on a stubborn provider alone.

See also

[Nov 23, 2016] 7 Steps in Appealing a Health Insurance Denial

Notable quotes:
"... As a practicing physician who is fed up with the way insurance carriers have managed to take over the delivery of health care in this country, my comments, I warn you, will be brutally frank. The way the game is played, the providers of health care bill as much as they believe they can get away with. ..."
"... That's because they are in business to make money - that's why it's called "for profit" health care. The insurance carriers try their damn best to find excuses to not pay as many of these charges as they can. Same reason. These two conspirators become co-conspirators when they play the game of "crap runs down hill". ..."
"... So here's my advice. Don't pay any "balance billing" no matter what they choose to call it. Activate the pump that sends the crap back uphill. Write letters to the provider asking for specifics as to the balance billing. ..."
Nov 23, 2016 | blogs.nytimes.com
MJ Columbus OH July 12, 2011

Unfortunately sometimes the only way to get around denial of precertification is to ask your doctor to lie. I had an MRI after a fainting episode that showed possible MS, which runs in my family. All other diseases were excluded. The medical recommendation is to get a follow-up MRI in 6-months. Because I wasn't having active symptoms, the follow-up MRI was not precertified when ordered by my neurologist. I went to my family physician for help, she requested the MRI, saying I was having headaches (everybody gets one occasionally, right?). I immediately got the necessary MRI and am now being treated. I think the insurance company didn't really want to deny the MRI, they wanted to delay expensive treatment, which was the likely outcome.

o'keefe illinois July 12, 2011

I am currently appealing a claim with HealthLink. Too long to go into but it involves an Intensive Outpatient Treatement program for my 20 year old son. There own guidelines state that this may well be the best initial choice for treatment. However, they advised us when they would not precertify that he needs to fail at out patient treatment and community support. Really? So I get to the External appeal process. Healthlink contracts with MCMC to provide the physician to do the reveiw. Can we say conflict of interest? She spits out the same verbage used to deny the precertification but mentions criteria that is no longer being used to asses such cases. Or and then there is the mention of my son's "wearable cardioverter defibrillor" has nothing to do with our case. So I appeal to the State of Illinois (eye roll) and am told I cannot appeal a denial of a precertification. I must have a denied claim. OK, but I can't get to the denied claim as HealthLInk won't even percert the care. Who are these people?

Clint N. NYC July 12, 2011

I recently had to deal with the insurance company VS primary care provider VS patient VS lab test provider. Its a cluster-expletive. Even trying to keep track of who said what when is difficult. Not too mention the hours upon hours of your precious time it *will* consume.

Short summary:

I had a severe flu (possibly swine flu) and made a doctor's appointment. They were very busy and couldn't see me for 2 weeks. When I came in for my appointment, I had recovered from the flu. My appointment was reclassified as well-care. My job's health insurance plan was revised two months prior to exclude well-care. I was now on the hook for 100% of the cost of the visit. The doctor ordered a full blood work since I was a new patient.

I realize it was my fault that I didn't know well-care wasn't covered. Lesson learned - I've read my EOB a couple times now, cover to cover. Unfortunately, I still only kind of know what is covered.

Anne Marie Bryn Mawr, Pa. July 12, 2011

As a practicing physician who is fed up with the way insurance carriers have managed to take over the delivery of health care in this country, my comments, I warn you, will be brutally frank. The way the game is played, the providers of health care bill as much as they believe they can get away with.

That's because they are in business to make money - that's why it's called "for profit" health care. The insurance carriers try their damn best to find excuses to not pay as many of these charges as they can. Same reason. These two conspirators become co-conspirators when they play the game of "crap runs down hill".

That's when they come up with things like "co-pays", "deductibles", "co-insurance", and a whole host of creative ways of attempting to coerce the patient to pick up the tab.

So here's my advice. Don't pay any "balance billing" no matter what they choose to call it. Activate the pump that sends the crap back uphill. Write letters to the provider asking for specifics as to the balance billing.

Don't accept their response. Write again. Write to the insurance carrier and appeal.

Then write the provider with the appeal number from the insurance company. Keep it going round and round. If contacted by a collection agency, write back explaining your appeals and that your financial condition won't allow you to pay without getting a disposition from your claim, and a better explanation from the provider as to why the procedure wasn't covered. Tell them to not contact you again. Tell them that you refuse to pay until you get a decent explanation. Dare them to sue you. CC a law firm on all correspondence. Make the providers get hurt enough to fight against the carrier. Bust up their friendship. Neither will hire a lawyer to get you. The publicity is the only thing they are afraid of.

KR NYC July 11, 2011

I am in the process of filing a claim for the first time ever. Cigna denied coverage for an operation after the fact. This was not even a marginal case, it was an obvious medical need. I suspect that insurance companies simply play the odds, deny and spread the costs to hospitals, surgeons, patients and maybe themselves. A lot less than paying the whole thing. This has nothing to do with medicine, as I have discovered. It is about how to boost revenues and damn fairness and the patient. Plan to fight and publicize my fight. This is as clean cut a case that can be found.

Walter San Diego, CA July 11, 2011

Having handled over 4000 health care appeals over the past 15 years, this article is a pretty good basic overview (so long as most of the Comments are ignored). The Affordable Care Act may ultimately be helpful in making this hodgepodge of rules more uniform, but that remains to be seen. The ultimate message for patients must remain clear: It is imperative to FIGHT for the care you need using all available resources and expertise at your disposal!

Frederick Willman Madison, WI July 11, 2011

One more reason why we must furiously resume pushing for medicare for all to replace the GOP health solution of just die folks.

FW
Madison, WI.

Lisa NYC July 11, 2011

#7 is correct: it is a game to the health insurance companies. They routinely deny perhaps 40% of all claims thinking that most people will just shrug off the denial and go away. The key is to keep calling, resubmitting and fighting the portion that they have denied. I have received initial denials for the most ludicrous reasons: the doctor retired; there is no such doctor at that address, etc... It is a game designed for the health insurance companies to win UNLESS you fight back.

Mollace Toledo, Ohio July 11, 2011

"If you feel too frail or overwhelmed to pursue an appeal yourself, nonprofit groups like the Patient Advocate Foundation can provide guidance for free."

A single person battling a life-threatening illness or condition is, of course, going to be overwhelmed and frail. Insurance companies bank on it. My suggestion is to start with advocacy first. Insurance companies make things difficult because they are in the business of making money, not helping patients. They want you to give up. When you have another person or two in your corner everything moves along better. Especially when the advocate knows how to fight hard and isn't afraid to speak frankly. There are witnesses to what is happening and you are taken more seriously.

It is ironic that there is now Health Proponent, a company that will fleece you in order to "advocate" for you. Only in America, folks.

Susan is a trusted commenter Eastern WA July 11, 2011

I had to have all my teeth extracted before I could begin treatment for throat cancer. I did not have enough dental insurance, and the oral surgeon's office told me that medical had informed them it would not pay the remainder.

I contacted mymedical insurance company, which recommended that I wait for a denial and then appeal. I pointed out that by that time I would be quite sick from the radiation, and would like to deal with it while I was still capable. Turns out there is a board that considers these things, so I had both of the oral surgeons, my oncologist, and my ENT all write letters to this board. The medical insurance company paid for the whole thing, since it was proven to be a medical necessity.

Now, if we could just get the oral surgery place to refund all that we paid, plus the dental insurance, so that the dental insurance can in turn use my benefit to help repay us for the dentures . . .

Michael in Vermont North Clarendon, VT July 11, 2011

This happens all the time. There are gajillions of codes used by the insurance companies. If your healthcare provider uses an incorrect code, then the insurance company won't pay the bill. Call the insurance company and find out what the codes should be. Then call or visit your health care provider and bring them up to date on the codes. Blue Cross and Blue Shield have all of their codes listed on their Internet site.

tough old bird Virginia July 11, 2011

sounds like Chinese water torture.

Harry St. Louis, MO July 11, 2011

You start off with the most important thing in any claim or grievance, and in almost any business deal - get it (and put it) in writing!

All the phone calls in the world will not help you but just trip you up. (And if you have to hire an attorney, this will save time and money.)

Robert Leff Cambridge, MA July 11, 2011

I have a friend who broke his back in a car accident and as a result has had ongoing medical issues. He told me that he treats the denials as a game. You submit the entire claim, they reject part of it, you resubmit the rejected part, they pay part and reject part, and you keep on going until you get your money. It seems cruel, but an insurance company's profit is the amount of money each year that they do not pay out in claims, so the incentive to deny is very strong.

Caught in the Middle Tenafly, NJ July 11, 2011

After some back and forth, Medicare paid its share of a claim that I, rather than my doctor, submitted,
I then submitted the claim to my secondary insurer who, after further back and forth, said that it could not pay the claim because it had been agent for my former employer and no longer had access to the employer's funds. The employer in turn, after more back and forth, says it plans tosubmit this and other claims to the current secondary employer for payment rather than pay them directl y. The process seems to go on forever.

mary browning is a trusted commenter miami beach, FL July 11, 2011

Good heavens, why should it take instructions that would require a graduate degree? In other countries none of this mess would be required. Disgraceful.

If you are sick and don't feel up to doing things, how, indeed could you do what you are said to do to simply get what is required or due to you?

George Eliot Annapolis, MD July 11, 2011

Stop. Just sue them and put them on the defensive. Denial of claims is the way the criminal health insurance companies provide record salaries to the gangsters who run the companies, and big dividends to their share holders.

All hail the American Plutocracy!

Barry New Jersey July 11, 2011

Appealing a health insurance denial which involves a substantial financial liability can be viewed like any other do-it-yourself endeavor. If you are comfortable handling a matter upon which, say, $75,000 or more is at stake (which is not uncommon), good luck. On the other hand, if the stakes are high, you may want consider having it handled by an attorney who specializes in this area of practice

TB is a trusted commenter Philadelphia July 11, 2011

As someone who went through this process recently, I would make the following suggestions:
1) Be very legalistic in your approach to the appeal, and quote appropriately from the policy and from law (this of course assumes you have a solid legal basis for your appeal).
2) Inform the insurance company in writing that if they require a full appeal, you will hire legal counsel to research and document your appeal.
3) Remind the insurance company that under ERISA, if you ultimately win, you are entitled to reimbursement of your legal fees and expenses.

This won't win obviously if you are on shaky legal ground. But if the insurance company is on shaky ground and just trying to avoid paying a claim (which was the case with us), this sort of saber rattling can help resolve the question quickly before you end up in a formal appeal. The insurance company doesn't want you to hire a lawyer if you have a good chance of winning.

stevesw1 Baltimore, MD July 11, 2011

Assistance with appeals and grievances from denials of health insurance claims is a service that many state Attorneys General provide for free, so check with your Attorney General's office before paying someone to assist you with the process.

[Nov 22, 2016] Hiring a Guide to the Medical Bill Maze by Lewis Braham

Notable quotes:
"... As part of her husband's benefits package, Isaac had access to a medical billing assistance company called Health Advocate . It negotiated with the physician's health-care group to reduce her bill to $7,000. ..."
Apr 29, 2013 | Bloomberg

When Annrose Isaac's twins were born prematurely, she thought her insurer would cover their stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. "The hospital was in our network, but it turned out the physician in the NICU who saw our daughters didn't participate with our insurer," says the Westwood (New Jersey)-based financial planner. "All of a sudden we were getting bills for over $30,000."

As part of her husband's benefits package, Isaac had access to a medical billing assistance company called Health Advocate. It negotiated with the physician's health-care group to reduce her bill to $7,000.

More than 60 percent of all U.S. personal bankruptcies are linked to illness and unpaid medical bills, according to a 2009 Harvard University study, even though 78 percent of those filing for bankruptcy because of illness have some form of health insurance. So hiring a medical billing advocate can be an essential part of the cure to financial ills.

Yet finding the right advocate can be tough, and those in the direst situations can ill afford the typical $75- to $130-an-hour rate. "This business is painfully slow-growing," says Becky Stephenson, co-president of the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals (ACAP), an advocate trade group. "There are a lot of people with problems but not a lot of people willing to pay you to help them." Despite long experience, Stephenson herself has trouble making a good living purely from advocacy, so she supplements her income by serving as an expert witness in medical lawsuits.

Employees working at sizable companies may already have access to a health advocate. Just over half of U.S. companies with more than 500 employees offer it as a benefit, according to Steven Noeldner, a senior consultant for Mercer's Total Health Management practice. Many employees don't know the benefit exists, he says, and the services generally aren't as customized as those of an independent billing advocate.

Credential Check

Unlike with more established professions such as accounting or law, there is no standard credential to look for when seeking a qualified advocate. At the most basic level you should ask if an advocate has certifications in medical bill coding from either the American Academy of Professional Coders or the American Health Information Management Association.

Many people with those designations aren't advocates, however, working instead for hospitals or insurers. And understanding the codes is only half the battle. Because of the complexity of our health-care system, you'll need someone who specializes in your specific kind of billing problem.

A good place to start is Claims.org, ACAP's website. It lets you search for experienced advocates by state. In a case like Isaac's, you'd need someone who specializes in hospital bills. Other advocates specialize in Medicare appeals, long-term care insurance, workers' compensation and insurance for special needs children.

Privacy Issues

The best way to find the right specialist is to ask the advocate for a resume and references. This can be tricky, because laws about disclosing private medical information are so strict that some advocates have difficulty providing references. In order to do so, their clients must agree to discuss their medical history.

Stephenson specializes in hospital bill audits. She studies itemized bills line by line, identifies padding and mistakes and negotiates lower rates. Prior to starting her Austin (Texas)-based advocacy firm VersaClaim in 2002, she ran an organization that helped doctors affiliated with hospitals set up their practices. That included all aspects of hospital billing.

A registered nurse for 12 years, Stephenson has an intimate knowledge of medical terminology and hospital procedures. "I ask questions like, Are there dosages of medications that are not compatible with my medical experience in real life?" she says. "Do the charges look realistic, or is there an $85 Tylenol?"

Location Matters

Another important factor to consider is an advocate's location. State laws vary in how they regulate insurers and hospitals. For Katalin Goencz, an advocate in Stamford, Connecticut, location is often irrelevant because she specializes in Medicare appeals: "The rules for Medicare are federal and pretty much universal, so the client's location doesn't really matter."

For a patient negotiating a lower bill directly with a local hospital or private insurer, having an advocate who knows the specific state regulations helps. State rules for advocates can also vary dramatically. Florida has some of the strictest. "Due to the large senior population in our state, we have a strong urge to make sure our people adjusting medical claims are licensed, competent and held to a high standard," says Matthew Guy, a spokesman for Florida's Division of Agent and Agency Services, which licenses and regulates advocates.

The state's Public Adjuster license for advocates requires licensees to be fingerprinted, have a criminal background check and hold a $50,000 surety bond. "If there's any wrongdoing by the adjuster, we can take the bond amount and use that towards restitution for the consumer," Guy says. Adjusters must pass an exam and take 24 hours of continuing education classes every two years.

Contingency Basis

A handful of advocates will work on contingency if they think you have a negotiable claim. Most will impose strict conditions to ensure they get paid if they win. "When I started my practice, I did everything on contingency but learned very quickly that a lot of consumers who want you to take their case on contingency in the end don't want to pay you," says Sheri Samotin, a billing advocate at Life Bridge Solutions in Naples, Florida.

Now Samotin requires a credit-card authorization up front for an amount sufficient to cover what her estimated contingency fee will be if her work succeeds. If the client doesn't pay within 10 days of a settlement being reached, she charges the card. Her fee is 35 percent of the client's medical bill savings.

Samotin is unusual in the advocacy world as she is more of a generalist, taking on all kinds of medical billing problems, including those of the uninsured. She has 25 years of experience in the health-care industry, so she has the knowledge to handle different kinds of problems, Samotin says. For a monthly $285 fee she will manage her clients' entire billing life -- a common need for seniors who have lost their capacity or desire to manage daily finances.

Instead of being a member of ACAP, Samotin is a member of the American Association of Daily Money Managers, a trade group for generalists. Only a handful of the AADMM's 700-plus members have the skills to also handle medical billing advocacy, Samotin says. Nor does she expect rapid growth in the field.

"Because this is a disorganized profession, people entering the field have to be entrepreneurs," she says. "They have to hang out their shingle and go out and get clients. In my experience, the majority of people who are good medical analysts and advocates are not necessarily good business getters."

So until the profession matures, finding a good advocate will remain difficult, no matter how vital the service is.

(Lewis Braham is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.)

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Suzanne Woolley at swoolley2@bloomberg.net

[Nov 22, 2016] Negotiating can cut hundreds off your medical bills

Notable quotes:
"... There are also companies who claim they have a network of physicians throughout the state who offer medical services for 50 percent off or more. ..."
13 WTHR Indianapolis
But you can fight back against skyrocketing medical costs.

"I've heard discounts up in the area of 30 percent sometimes, which can be pretty significant," said Cathryn Perron, director of program development with Consumer Credit Counseling.

She says it's possible to negotiate down your medical bills - everything from ambulance rides to surgery. She says you can also bargain with your dentist, the lab that does your blood tests, the eye doctor - even the company that makes you prescription medication.

"Each company has a specific number you can call to fill out an application and many times, you'll get a discount, or you'll get the product free through the drug companies, if you qualify financially," Perron said.

All you have to do, with or without insurance, is make a call. Each case is handled differently. In most cases, everyone wants to pay the bill, but they're afraid to contact their doctor or hospital. They'll work with you to make sure the cost is paid.

So how do you pay less?

There are a number of options:

Charity care - Bills are forgiven, based on your income and expenses, but you'll have to fill out hardship paperwork.

"You'll most likely have to provide proof of income, they'll ask about your monthly living expenses and your other bills that you have to pay every month," said Perron.

Sholar called Indianapolis EMS.

"He says, 'Sir, you got to pay for the ambulance, all the stuff in the ambulance, the two people who drive the ambulance. That's just the way it is'," he said.

But he didn't give up.

"This bill says $1,300. She said, 'Yeah, that sounds about right.' I said, 'Let me talk to a supervisor'," Sholar said. "The supervisor's name is John. John wasn't too happy."

Mike put on the pressure and the bill was reduced by $532. The wounds to his buttocks are healed, but the other injury he got that night, on his thumb, is a constant reminder of the cost of healthcare.

"I don't need no X-rays, I don't need no other stuff. Just give me the stitches and I still haven't received a bill for that," he said.

But he's ready to negotiate and he says, in the future, he'll also weigh the costs before calling 911.

"I would have put a rag over it and got a ride here," he said.

Tips to Negotiate Your Medical Costs

Consumer Credit Counseling and Apprisen offer tips to get your medical bills reduced:

First and foremost be informed. Understand what type of medical insurance coverage you have and what your co-pays or financial responsibilities are. Some insurance companies have contracts with certain medical providers to offer a discount if you receive treatment from a "preferred provider." We encourage individuals to meet with their Human Resource department or contact their insurance company to speak with a representative about their coverage and benefits prior to receiving medical treatment. This could reduce your financial responsibility significantly.

Apprisen recommends for you to review your itemized statement from your medical provider. If you feel there are discrepancies or charges in question, contact your medical provider to meet with their Patient Account Specialist to discuss your questions or discrepancies. Communication is a vital part of resolving your issues. Simply ignoring communication from your medical provider will not resolve the issue and could potentially lead to a negative impact on your credit rating if resolution is not reached.

Whether you have insurance or not, you are encouraged to contact your medical provider prior to treatment (if possible) to discuss costs associated with your treatment and to work out the possibility of negotiating those costs down. Many medical providers will consider giving discounts to individuals who are willing to pay the balance in full upon services rendered or within a short period of time after receiving treatment. If you find yourself in a position where you are not able to pay the balance in full, consider negotiating with your medical provider for a monthly repayment plan interest free. You are encourage to analyze your personal budget to insure you are able to make the financial commitment to your medical provider. Negotiating your medical bill then failing to follow through with the financial payment arrangement could negate your hard effort to reduce your medical bill.

If you are uninsured, you are encouraged to meet with a Patient Account Specialist or a "decision maker" to see if you qualify for any financial hardship programs. Most hardship programs require you to provide evidence of your financial situation and the award is based on financial need. Be prepared to give a full budget disclosure in order to be considered for the hardship program.

Apprisen's mission is "To help people improve their financial well-being through counseling, community outreach and financial education."

You can call Apprisen at 1-800-355-2227 or visit apprisen.com.

There are also companies who claim they have a network of physicians throughout the state who offer medical services for 50 percent off or more. You can find out more about those companies at objectivedx.com.

Ambulance charges

Originally Posted by gardengirl View Post

Lealea - thanks for asking - he did make the team! So, that is the good news...and, he did learn a lesson about taking charge of your needs, even if it isn't convenient or easy.. the charges from that, though, pretty much wipe out the scholarship award, so at least financially he is in the hole from the get-go
I'd still give the ambulance company a call and see what you may be able to negotiate. Sometimes, they will cut you a break because of circumstances. Good luck to you and your son.

Ambulance Costs - Straight Dope Message Board

08-09-2005, 02:09 PM

gotpasswords

Charter Member

Join Date: Mar 1999

Location: San Francisco area

Posts: 15,993

The California Department of Consumer Affairs ( www.dca.ca.gov ) says nothing more than to contact your local consumer agency, by which I can only assume they mean the Better Business Bureau.

You might want to give the DCA a call at 800-952-5210 for clarification.

No, you need to go over her head and speak to the owner of the company.

A representative of the Department of Consumer Affairs in Sacramento gave me the following information:

The state Ambulance association's number is: 915-735-0154
The California State EMS Authority number is: 916-322-4336, and their website is:
www.emsa.ca.gov.

Consumer Affairs regulates most medical providers in California, but not ambulance/EMS services. The two organizations I gave above, and particularly the second, should be able to help.

08-09-2005, 03:11 PM

Gary Robson

Charter Member

Charter Member Join Date: Mar 2003

Location: Montana, U.S.A.

Posts: 9,449

Quote:

Originally Posted by MsRobyn

If you have insurance, they will more than likely cover this, which makes it their problem, not yours.

If ambulance companies overcharge, and the insurance companies pay it, then said insurance companies will raise their rates. You pay it now, or you pay it later. In a specific incident like this one, you're not shoving the problem off on some nameless, faceless, corporation--you're spreading it around to a bunch of other folks just like yourself.

Arrosen is taking the more responsible approach of trying to fix the problem rather than pawn it off on other people.

__________________
---
Yes, I have joined the ranks of former moderators. Being a mod was eating my life. Now I'm a member just like you. Except smarter and better looking.

08-09-2005, 03:38 PM

MsRobyn

Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Join Date: Mar 2000

Location: Between the Moon and NYC

Posts: 12,959

Quote:

Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat

If ambulance companies overcharge, and the insurance companies pay it, then said insurance companies will raise their rates. You pay it now, or you pay it later. In a specific incident like this one, you're not shoving the problem off on some nameless, faceless, corporation--you're spreading it around to a bunch of other folks just like yourself.

Arrosen is taking the more responsible approach of trying to fix the problem rather than pawn it off on other people.

No, because he has a contract with the insurance company. They pay the bill, arrosen pays the difference.

That said, I'm sure the insurance company would be very interested in this ambulance company. They have a fraud division that investigates overcharging and improper billing. Try talking to them, too.

Robin

Cost of an Ambulance - Consumer Information

What should be included: Additional costs: Discounts: Shopping for an ambulance: Material on this page is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always consult your physician or pharmacist regarding medications or medical procedures.

High Cost of ambulance Transportation

Amount: $8,000.00

Posted by: Katzx2 in La Grange, IL.

Posted: June 26th, 2015 09:06AM

Ambulance Provider: N/A

Distance: 10 miles

To respond to the Virginia Beach person voicing that those that are complaining of Ambulance fees are a "bunch of whiners;" In the State of Illinois an ambulance fee ranges from $7,000.00 to 10,000.00, I think we have a right to be concerned as to the high cost, not that I am not appreciative of the EMT themselves but the cost for an ambulance is ridiculous!

Yes, Insurance will cover some cost but did you know that for a Dialysis patient that requires (per physician) an ambulance as a Medcar would not be appropriate, that person pays the cost of 5,000.00 to 7,000.00, that the Insurance and Medicare will not pay. So now, Virginia Beach, these people have every right to be concerned and are not "whiners" especially if they can not afford that exorbitant amount. Tell what is their alternative, will you pay for it for them?

Superior Ambulance - Price Gougers

Amount: $7,500.00

Posted by: Scammed by Superior in Libertyville, IL. Posted: December 22nd, 2014 09:12PM
Ambulance Provider: Superior Distance: 39 miles
Charged roughly $7500 to transfer from one hospital to another for a non-emergency. The hospital told us it was mandatory we take an ambulance. Insurance covered only $700 b/c Superior is out of network (I called...they do not participate in ANY networks).

Left with an out of pocket bill for $6800 for a glorified taxi service. I don't know what to do. BCBS was no help whatsoever.

The Reality Of Ambulance Cost Of Services Amount: $0.00

Posted by: A Volunteer in Tulsa Area, OK.

Posted: December 4th, 2014 05:12AM

Ambulance Provider:

Distance: 0

I can sincerely appreciate the appearance of outlandish costs for ambulance services in our country. However, as a volunteer helping to manage a non-profit ambulance service, I would offer an explanation. On average, ambulance services recover only a small portion of their billings, about 60% but can go as low as 40% depending on the area. In short, those that do pay are also paying for those that do not. Even with this consideration, most may feel the costs too high. I would ask them to appreciate the costs of providing highly trained personnel, available within minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Very high rates with "Superior"

Amount: $7,550.00

Posted by: TLA in Aurora, IL.

Posted: November 21st, 2014 10:11AM

Ambulance Provider: Superior Air Ground Amb. Service

Distance: 41 miles

My kid had to be transferred from one hospital to another and Superior Ambulance from Aurora to Park Ridge, IL charged $7550. Blue Cross paid $4730 (the maximum they would pay) and left me with $2820.

I had no choice and no information ahead of time so I feel gouged. They can charge whatever they want and we are stuck.

Was this post helpful to you? yes no

[Apr 05, 2013] How to handle medical bill problems by Lisa Zamosky

Notable quotes:
"... Most states have laws saying that patients are entitled to an itemized medical bill that details what services and supplies are included in their charges. ..."
"... In 2006, California passed a law to prevent hospitals from collecting more money from uninsured patients than what Medicare or other public programs would pay for the same service. ..."
"... "Once a patient contacts the hospital and shows evidence of their financial situation, state law requires us to offer a discount based on Medicare rates," says Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Assn. ..."
"... All communications with a provider should be in writing, experts say. Insist that your account be placed on hold until the dispute is resolved to avoid having the bill sent to collections. ..."
"... If you meet with resistance, don't waste time by calling back the customer service line or billing department. Go straight to the top. ..."
"... filing a complaint with your state's department of insurance. ..."
Apr 05, 2013 | http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/05

For those with confusing or huge hospital bills, experts advise knowing rights, getting written explanations, turning to the right places for help and filing complaints if necessary.

When Keith Yaskin and his wife, Loren, rushed their 2-year-old son to the hospital with a dangerous infection in his neck, they weren't thinking about how much his care would cost. After his three-day inpatient stay with nonstop intravenous antibiotics, they were hit with $8,900 in charges.

But the toughest lesson for the Scottsdale, Ariz., couple came a month or so later when they began to sort out the hospital bills. Their insurance policy had a $10,000 deductible. So they scrutinized every item, made some calls and had a few surprises.

When, for instance, they asked a medical group they had never heard of why it was charging them $839.25, they said they got no clear answers, just threats if they failed to pay.

After 21/2 months of calls and a complaint to their state attorney general, the Yaskins finally learned that a pediatrician affiliated with the group had treated their son in the hospital. The medical group eventually cut the bill in half.

None of this surprises Pat Palmer, the founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America. "We get feedback from consumers saying that providers are telling them 'We can't give you an itemized statement' or 'You should have asked for it before you left the hospital.'"

The idea is to discourage patients from asking for the details behind the charges, she said.

Experts offer a range of suggestions for dealing with medical billing problems.

Know your rights. Most states have laws saying that patients are entitled to an itemized medical bill that details what services and supplies are included in their charges.

"You can't be billed if they can't tell you what they are charging for," Palmer says.

Contact the billing department at either the hospital or medical group where you received services, she said. Let them know that you want an itemized bill, and tell them you are aware of your legal right to have it.

Also, a few states have laws limiting how much hospitals can charge patients who pay for care on their own. In 2006, California passed a law to prevent hospitals from collecting more money from uninsured patients than what Medicare or other public programs would pay for the same service.

"Once a patient contacts the hospital and shows evidence of their financial situation, state law requires us to offer a discount based on Medicare rates," says Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Assn.

Get explanations in writing and take protests to the top. All communications with a provider should be in writing, experts say. Insist that your account be placed on hold until the dispute is resolved to avoid having the bill sent to collections.

If you meet with resistance, don't waste time by calling back the customer service line or billing department. Go straight to the top.

Address a certified letter to the chief executive or chief financial officer of the hospital or medical group explaining that you have tried to resolve billing issues but have hit a brick wall. "The CEO and CFO will take it very seriously," Palmer says.

Get help from your insurer. In the Yaskins' case, both the hospital and the medical group were in their insurer's network and had contracts to provide services at a negotiated discount.

"If you are in network - and this is one of the good reasons to stay in network - you can go to your insurer for help. It has a responsibility to some degree to what happens between you and a contracted physician," says Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.

Also, ask to make sure you're getting the rate your insurer has negotiated with in-network providers, says Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. Insurers often pass claims through without processing them at the reduced rate. Ask your insurer to re-process the claim if the discount wasn't applied.

Seek help and file complaints. If your bill is large or you're having a hard time making headway, patient advocates can help sort things out. For either a flat fee or a share of the money you save, organizations such as Medical Billing Advocates of America (www.billadvocates.com) and Health Proponent (www.healthproponent.com) can help you fight charges or lower your bill.

If you're being stonewalled by your healthcare provider, and your insurer hasn't helped, Quincy of Consumers Union suggests filing a complaint with your state's department of insurance. In California, patients with HMO coverage can file a complaint with the California Department of Managed Health Care by calling (888) 466-2219 or visiting healthhelp.ca.gov. Californians with PPO coverage should try the Department of Insurance at (800) 927-HELP (4357) or visit http://www.insurance.ca.gov. If your provider isn't contracted with your insurer, your state's attorney general's office is a place to turn for help.

The Yaskins ultimately enlisted the services of an advocate to help them sort through all their billing questions.

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