Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adventures in Hospital Billing

You want know how much I enjoy dealing with hospital billing departments? (Just pretend you do and say Yes.) Here’s how much I enjoy dealing with hospital billing departments: I find kidney stones and sore throats to be excruciatingly painful, but I’d rather have a kidney stone and a sore throat than deal with hospital billing departments.

In fact, I’d rather have a sore throat in my kidney than open another bill from people who assume that if you don’t pay the entire balance immediately, you must be planning to flee the country with their medical care still inside you.

Right now I’m dealing with a bill for a couple of hospital classes I attended last winter to learn about Type 2 diabetes and how to keep it from becoming Type 1. My health insurance covered all but about $307 of the cost, and of course if I’d paid the whole $307 at the outset I wouldn’t need to write this post.

However, I decided to spread my payments out over time, and they apparently don’t like that. I don’t understand why they don’t like it, because I suspect that if you took a survey of people who work in hospital billing departments, the results would show that all of them prefer convenient monthly payments.


First bill, I sent ‘em $25. The next bill came with a suggestion that I should call the billing department if I knew what was good for me, so I called and spoke to a friendly woman who set me up with monthly payments of $32. Next bill, I sent ‘em $32.

In March I moved from an apartment in West Des Moines to a house in Clive, and despite my very clear forwarding instructions to the US Postal Service the next bill didn’t get forwarded. I don’t know why. Maybe the USPS dog ate it. I was aware there’d been a long interval between statements, but since a large chunk of my March finances was already earmarked for moving expenses and car repairs, I didn’t get all that worked up about it. The hospital did. There was a note on the next statement that said I’d missed a payment and now owed $64, and that I should call the billing department again if I knew what was good for me.

I didn’t make that call. Partly because I have a stubborn streak, partly because I didn’t appreciate the intimidating tone, and partly because I didn’t see the point. The statement said I owed $64, so I sent them $100 as a sign of good faith, a sign that I wasn’t planning to skip out on the bill. That took my balance down to $118, and the way I saw it, I was a month and $4 ahead on my payments.

The hospital didn’t agree. (It’s Mercy Medical in Des Moines, by the way—I’d hate for someone to Google them and miss out on this story.) On the next statement, they listed the amount due as $118, with no mention anywhere of my agreed-upon $32 payments. There was, however, a note that said “Numerous attempts have been made to contact you” along with the requisite suggestion to call the billing department within 15 days if I didn’t want any trouble.

Now, the intimidation didn’t bother me as much as the greatly exaggerated claim that they’d made numerous attempts to contact me. When I signed up for the diabetes class in November, I listed my home phone number, my work phone number, and my cell phone number. I didn’t receive any voice mails from Mercy Medical on my work phone or cell phone (voice mails are a popular way to contact someone when you’re making numerous attempts to do so), nor did the caller ID on either phone reveal any unusual numbers. I suppose it’s possible that they called the home phone I listed, but since that number was disconnected in March I can’t believe they were dumb enough to try it more than once. There aren’t too many ways to interpret the phrase “You’ve reached a number that has been disconnected.”

So unless they just called a bunch of random numbers asking for Dono (which, technically, could be considered numerous attempts to contact me), I believe I caught them in a lie. And when I dutifully called the billing department and left a message, I politely told them so.

Three weeks later, they still haven’t returned my call.

Oh, Wait, Here’s Some More Stuff

* There are a whole mess of good reasons for European-style universal healthcare. This post wasn’t meant to be one of them, but hey, if the shoe fits.

* Microsoft Word’s spell check didn’t like the word “ureter” in the first paragraph. (Didn’t care much for it in this paragraph either.) It suggested urethra, greeter, renter, and writer as possible substitutes. Not sure why. According to Merriam-Webster, ureter has been in the language since 1543—about 90 years before the first use of urethra, if you’re keeping score.

* The new hospital under construction in West Des Moines is going to be called The Michael R. Myers Hospital. If you’re reading this in the Des Moines metro, please join me in referring to it as the Austin Powers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

saywns lah-k uh bunch-uh cockity mush to may