Thursday, October 28, 2010

Medical Bills

So in my former life I was a Collections/Customer Service Lead for St. Joseph, in Bryan.  Let me tell you if I heard one story I've heard them all about hospital collection techniques, how mean they are, how dumb they are, how nice they are, on and on.  As some of my friends know I am always more than willing to help them with their medical bills because it can be very confusing if you do not know what you are doing or if you are not paying attention.  Here are my tips when you are trying to work with a provider (hospital or doctor's office) regarding your bills:

1.  Get organized.  Keep all your bills, itemized statements, EOBs (explanation of benefits), etc in one folder, or drawer in some cases.  For instance, I have all the bills relating to Eli's delivery in one folder in date order and when one is paid in full it goes in a binder clip in the back of the folder.  This way only items not in the binder clip are things I need to worry about.  Also, if you are disputing something with your bill and you show up at the hospital's business office with nothing but your most recent bill it will take them longer to assist you because they will have to look everything up for you.  Occasionally, the patient will receive their EOB before the hospital does so they might not have everything you have.

2.  Communicate.  If you are struggling financially or just can't afford to pay your bill quickly ignoring it will not make it go away.  You need to call the hospital/doctor's office and tell them what is going on and express to them that you are trying to pay your bills.  Ask them what the smallest amount they will take to keep it from going to collections.  Using my own bills as an example, I explained to all the providers that I am paying everyone the same amount and when one gets paid off I will increase my payment and I tried to give them a date.  Example, "I can pay you $25.00 a month until September then I can increase to $100.00 until the bill is paid."  Most of the time, if you are able to tell them dates they are more sympathetic about assisting you.

3.  Be nice.  Believe me, I know it is frustrating to pay large amounts of money to a hospital or doctor when it probably was not an experience you enjoyed, like a vacation.  However, I can tell you from experience, customer service reps (and their supervisors) are more likely to assist someone that is nice than someone that starts a conversation off like, "I know you are just trying screw me over!"  You would not believe some of the tackiness I encountered from patients that stormed in my office wanting immediate results or free medical care.  Before you get upset at me for taking the hospital's side I understand frustration and feeling like you have no options but before you jump to conclusions and assume people are out to get you listen to what they have to say.  Again, personal experience, I received a call on Christmas Eve or the day before, I can't remember but it was an agency wanting me pay my bill off that day.  Needless to say, in my nicest voice, I explained that I had already mailed a payment that month and I would not be paying my balance off the day before Christmas.  I would call them back in January.  I could have been very rude to them but I felt sorry for them having to work so close to Christmas and I knew they were trying to increase collections before the end of the year.

4.  Ask.  If you are confused by your balance or anything on your bill call the hospital/doctor's office.  It is their job to know how to help you.  If you feel you are not getting the response or the help you wanted feel free to ask for their supervisor and say, "Thank you for explaining that but I might need to talk to your supervisor to understand it better."  Do not say, "Well, you are clearly stupid.  Let me talk to someone else."  Also, if you have some cash stashed up and you are really close to being able to pay your bill off ask them if they can settle it.  Sometimes, not always, if you can pay in cash they will settle for 20% or more off your bill.  But you will never know unless you ask.  Some hospitals have very strict polices on this and might not be able to settle an account but if you don't ask you will never know.  One of the doctor's Eli saw while in the NICU gave us 50% off our bill if we could pay it in 10 days.  Done!

I hope this helps some people.  I know it can be confusing and the more you go to the doctor the more confusing it can be.  If you ever need any help or clarification with anything feel free to ask me anytime.

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