A friend wrote:
“I’m reaching out to you in hopes that you can help guide me on my personal medical bills … . First I have to let you know that I was laid off … last week due to budget cuts….
“With that being said, my medical bills are ridiculous.
“I just received my daughter’s medical bill for an MRI and need to pay $1,121.00 out of pocket. That doesn’t include the $1,800.00 I’m paying for my husband’s hospital stay last fall because he had double pneumonia. Now that I don’t have a job I’m really worried as to how I can pay for all these medical expenses.
“Any tips or suggestions on how I can negotiate with the insurance company or hospital? My daughter is being treated at [name of hospital removed] l by their specialist and the MRI bill is going to be the first of many more to come.
“Any assistance is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your help.
We are working on an article about this, but for starters, we answered:
“Quite often the first bill you get might be in error, and it’s worth going back to the provider and the insurance company to make sure they had your proper information before treatment and billing. Also check your policy to make sure you know what’s covered — deductibles and co-pays and so on.
“Then if it’s all properly submitted and recorded, often you can explain the circumstances to a provider. Quite often they have a hardship rate. Sometimes there are forms you have to fill out certifying that you’re unemployed or uninsured or both, and the provider will have rules for that.
“We also suggest that in every case before treatment you clarify what your insurance is, to make sure the provider is part of your plan, or that — if you don’t have a plan — they know that you are paying cash.
“Also we find that you can shop around in advance for many things, including an MRI. If you look at our site, you will see that some providers charge $350 and some $2,300, for the same thing. often a procedure is more expensive in a hospital, so if you can choose a self-standing radiology provider that may be less expensive (note: this is not medical advice, just practical advice on shopping around).
“I’m sorry for your troubles. hope this helps.”
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.