BOSTON (CBS) – If you have paid a medical bill recently, there’s a good chance you paid too much. It’s a concept Jeremy Winetraub now understands well. While still recovering from hernia surgery, he got hit with a $20,000 bill from the hospital. “It was horrifying,” he said.
Jeremy’s doctor was in his insurance company’s network, what he didn’t know was the hospital was not. They were looking for Jeremy to cover the costs his insurance company would not. “We pay a lot for insurance and then to have a $20,000 bill. We were losing sleep over it,” he said.
Stories like Jeremey’s are becoming increasingly common as the world of medical billing gets more complicated. That’s why Rebecca Palm founded CoPatient, a company which helps patients reduce their bills. “We typically find opportunities for them [patients] to save money on about 75% – 80% of the bills that people submit to us,” she said.
There are all kinds of reasons for those surprise bills and it’s not always the out-of-network issue. Sometimes, according to Palm, the bills are just plain wrong. “Errors in medical bills are incredibly common,” she said.
The first step to catching mistakes is to make sure you have all the information. Palm pointed out bills for hospital stays tend to be vague, with few details accompanying the total amount due. Hospitals will gladly print out a detailed, itemized bill if you ask. Some of the most common errors in those bills include: duplicate charges, charges for tests that were never performed and inaccurate operating room fees.
To avoid the issue like Jeremey’s, patients should always try to make sure providers and facilities are in your plan’s network, but in emergency situations, that’s not always practical. So if you do get hit with those out-of-network fees, Palm insists those fees are negotiable. “It’s a little bit of a made up number that is kind of artificially inflated to be higher than what any actual insurance plan is going to reimburse for that service,” she said.
Jeremy negotiated with the hospital and they forgave the entire $20,000 bill. He is grateful, but believes the system needs to be fixed. “It seemed like a weird sort of game that I didn’t know the rules for,” he said.
State and federal insurance mandates have resulted in health plans with much higher out-of-pocket costs. That means the stakes are that much higher and catching an error could save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars.