Well, it’s been almost a year since the early morning accident where my car got run over. I spent a few hours in the Emergency Room, missed several weeks of work, enjoyed two surgeries on my right hand, and then found out that the responsible driver had apparently suffered a medical emergency– which conveniently let his insurance company off the hook. My auto insurance paid for the first $10,000, and then my health insurance reluctantly stepped up to the plate. After I paid the deductible, they covered approximately 80% of all hospital, surgical, and therapy expenses. It’s amazing how long it takes for the bills on that remaining 20% to drizzle in. But now, eleven months later, I’m trying to pay as many bills as possible while they will still qualify for this year’s tax deduction.
I’m happy to report that there may be an end to this after all. The process has become predictable. They send me a bill, I remind them that there are two insurance companies involved, they submit the bill to my employer health insurance, and then something close to a final figure comes to me. That’s were the whole thing gets frustrating. Once the insurance is done paying, and it’s my personal responsibility, I suddenly want to know what I got for all that money.
On October 28th Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare sent me a bill for $610.00. Naively, I thought that might be the final bill, so I sent $210.00, thinking I’d send the rest 30 days later and everybody would be happy. Approximately ten days later they sent me another bill that added an extra $904.37 for an additional procedure and $156.00 for something else they haven’t yet explalined. I mailed the $904.37 immediately, on the same day. Less than three weeks after that, a bill arrived for $767.00 more. No explanation for where these numbers came from.
Not having received any acknowledgment of my payments, I called a local Wheaton telephone number. It was answered by a pleasant lady named Shatel, in Texas I believe, who patiently sifted through financial records, gave a very complicated narration of what was being done with my money, and wound it all up with “It’s all correct. I can’t explain it to you, but it is all correct.” For some reason I was not feeling enlightened. Even though Shatel kindly offered to accept my payment through a credit card, I couldn’t help feeling very uneasy about where all these numbers were coming from.
My next move was to drive across town to the cashier’s office at Covenant Medical Center, planning to sit down with an expert, and let them show me the records that seemed to exist only on their computers. A very nice lady, I’ll call her Hazel, spent half an hour going through the records, printing out relevant pages, and attempting to explain it to me. In the end, I was thoroughly confused, but I wrote one more check, this time for $767.11, that I hope and pray might be the end of it. Hazel assured me that was the last one.
As I walked away from Hazel’s window (Hazel sits inside a window in the wall, inaccessible, so that it’s impossible to see what she is actually viewing on her computer monitor), I glanced over the papers she had so kindly printed. That was my next mistake of the day. Near the top of one page I saw the words “BAD DEBT WRITE OFF,” in caps, next to the figure $904.37.
Remember that figure? Check number 8432, written on November 10, 2013, for 904.37? I spun on my heels, approached Hazel again, and asked if that meant what I thought it meant. She assured me that it was not being claimed as a bad debt. “That’s just what they call it.” She couldn’t explain it, but I should just trust that everything is okay. And the funny thing is that I felt comfortable with Hazel; she is a nice lady, but she didn’t understand it either. And if she was unable to understand it, what chance do I have?
Certainly, people overuse the word “transparency” these days, but I need to use what is rapidly becoming a cliché. We need more transparency here.
If health care organizations expect our sympathy when it comes to protecting themselves from the federal government and its oversight, they need to make a real effort to clarify their billing systems. I know that’s difficult when they seem to have different prices for people with private insurance, people without insurance, and people with medicare, but maybe that is part of the problem. These pages Hazel printed up give new meaning to the word obscure. The first five lines of the bill for my January 24 surgery read “Miscellaneous $2,505.00, Miscellaneous $2,505.00, Miscellaneous $498.00, Miscellaneous $1,974.00,” and “Miscellaneous $1,274.0.”
That’s approximately $9,000 of charges where I have no idea what I got for the money. And if the “2” in the “QTY” column means a couple of those figures were doubled, we might be talking over $12,000. I’m not disputing the charges. I’m certainly not saying a mistake has been made. I’m obviously not smart enough to make sense of it all. I’m just looking for more specifics. For that much money, I could buy a decent used car. We need more transparency here.
I don’t doubt that the charges could be supported and explained if administrators wanted to make it happen, but at this point I’m convinced that they will not make it happen. I’ve tried, and the system doesn’t seem to allow for clarification. It is all impossibly complicated, and nobody seems motivated to make the situation more clear. I’ve been trying for eleven months, and I’m thoroughly prepared to give up.
I just want this to be over.