Med­i­cal bills — some new de­vel­op­ments

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - BUSINESS - Janet Col­li­ton Colum­nist

Years ago I re­mem­ber sit­ting with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a hos­pi­tal billing depart­ment try­ing to de­ter­mine the mean­ing of med­i­cal bills re­gard­ing a fam­ily mem­ber’s treat­ment. One as­pect that was es­pe­cially odd was that, for the same treat­ment, an infusion, the bill to us could be $200 or it could be $2,000. How could there be such a dif­fer­ence from one infusion to the next?

Af­ter wrestling with the billing state­ment and re­view­ing the de­tails, I fi­nally turned to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive and said in so many words “so am I cor­rect that the in­sur­ance com­pany de­cides what to pay and what­ever is left is left for us to han­dle?” Her an­swer, al­though I do not re­mem­ber the ex­act words, was along the lines of “that’s about it.” There were mi­nor dif­fer­ences. A blood test taken at one ap­point­ment was not taken at an­other. A TB test at one might not have been re­peated at an­other. It could have been “coded” dif­fer­ently from one visit to an­other or maybe the in­sur­ance cov­er­age changed in mov­ing into an­other year. How­ever, it was ba­si­cally the same pro­ce­dure.

Med­i­cal billing is still, to some ex­tent, a mys­tery to me al­though I work with fam­i­lies who have med­i­cal is­sues all the time and that in­cludes re­view­ing their ex­penses. I un­der­stand I am not alone. Since med­i­cal bills — in­clud­ing med­i­ca­tions, hos­pi­tal­iza­tions, physi­cians’ ap­point­ments, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tions, ther­a­pies and pro­ce­dures among other ex­penses are re­ported to be the No. 1 cause of bank­rupt­cies in Amer­ica, there re­ally needs to be some un­der­stand­able way to ex­plain dif­fer­ences and to as­sist peo­ple who are go­ing through prob­lems usu­ally not of their own mak­ing.

Two in­ter­est­ing re­cent de­vel­op­ments of note have come across my ta­ble, so to speak. One is the launch of a new ser­vice by Kaiser Health News that can be ac­cessed at https:// khn.org/send-us-your-med­i­cal­bills/. The other is a cam­paign “NBC Re­sponds: Eras­ing Med­i­cal Debt” launched in Philadel-

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