Keep an eye on those hospital bills!

As I mentioned previously, it’s going to be light blogging for me for the next several days as I continue to recover from my own surgery (so far, recovery seems to be going well). But as I go through my own experience there are a few things I figured I’d pass along that should be helpful to the self-pay uninsured or high-deductible patient.

As with most prices in health care, the surgical center where my operation was performed couldn’t give me an exact price ahead of time. Which means when the bill comes, I’m going to have to be vigilant to make sure there aren’t any mistake, which apparently is pretty common in hospital billing. 

Michelle Katz, who blogs at Healthcare for Less, has done a number of stories on patients who found major mistakes in their hospital bills. As she wrote several weeks ago in a blog post titled Tip #62 from “101 Health Insurance Tips”: Challenge Discrepancies!

 “Keep in mind that hospitals can take up to a year to send out a final bill. By this time, you may have forgotten details of your hospital stay and may not recall what specifically should or should not appear on your bill. If this is done on purpose, it is termed “delayed price escalation,” and is dependent on your poor memory.”

“Delayed price escalation.” Nice.  Here are some tips on things to do and to look for, drawn from Michelle Katz’s 2009  amazing story of saving her husband’s life, then saving them $7,000 by finding errors on the hospital bill:

Keep a log. …keep a log of all the procedures performed and medications given during a hospital stay.

Request an itemized bill. …request an itemized copy of your bill. It’s pages and pages long and breaks down every procedure, every medication…

Make sure the dates match up. When Katz went over her husband’s medical records, she found that he had been charged for procedures …when he was not in the hospital.

Watch out for extra zeroes. On one bill…A common medication that is normally $80 had been billed for $874 instead.

Beware of ‘fat fingers.’ …one medication was listed on her husband’s bill seven times a day even though it was only supposed to be administered four times a day.

Know what’s included. …sometimes patients are charged for the “value meal” and the a la carte items in the value meal… There is often a category on your bill with a name like “daily supplies,” which should include things like IV lines, syringes, etc. But often patients are also billed for those items separately.

Don’t pay for medical mistakes. …the hospital caused an IV infection in her husband’s arm and then charged him for the extra day he was forced to stay.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate — with the doctors, not the billing department. “Doctors are in the field,” Katz said. “They’re compassionate.” …the people in the billing department don’t know you personally and are sometimes paid a commission based on how much money they collect.

Needless to say, I’ll be taking a close look at my hospital bill for any and all of these things, and also reporting back to the readers of The Self-Pay Patient on anything I find!

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