Patient tries to control cost

Summary: “A personal account of a transaction that went very badly, and rules of Health Reform were not followed,” reposted here with permission from the author, Cyndy Nayer, who blogs over at the Center of Health Engagement, where this first appeared. Cyndy, an online acquaintance of, tried to find out what stuff costs, in this case the very simple procedure involving removing, yes, ear wax. Straightforward, common, prosaic. Guess what happened next.



By Cyndy Nayer, Center of Health Engagement

Accountable Care and associated transparency have not made it to Florida, at least not in this physician’s office.

I made an appt with an ENT (ear nose and throat doctor) for ear wax. When I get there, I need to fill out 5 papers (EMR anyone??), and I’m told there is a $35.00 copay, which she says I can pay on my way out.

The 5 page HIPAA form says they can share my info with other providers who are trying to collect fees. But you only learn this, among other clauses, if you read the form that is tacked on the wall–it’s not in the form the patient signs.

Shortened synopsis of the patient attempting to be responsible for her fees

I asked the receptionist how much the office visit is, and she said, “On your insurance there’s a $35.00 copay.” Yes, but is there an additional fee for removal of ear wax? How much? “We can’t tell you that until after the doctor sees you and marks what is done. And besides, we don’t know if you have satisfied your deductible.” I tell her I have not, but because I have to guarantee payment if the insurance company denies anything, I’d like an estimate of charges. She repeats the deductible statement and I say yes, I understand, but that’s a problem, as I haven’t satisfied my deductible so I need to know how much this will be. She tells me she will get the Office Manager (OM).

The Office Mgr (who is disguised in a clinical suit) tells me, “You have to sign this financial form before the doctor sees you because after, you will have received the services so you or the insurance company owe the money.” No problem say I, but I need an estimate, and I can’t sign a financial responsibility form that allows you to bill me if my insurance company doesn’t pay you in 45 days AND that tacks on a 30% interest fee, when I don’t know if I can afford it.

Two visits into the doctor’s lair, she comes out and says, “Dr M is more than willing to provide the services you need but he cannot be interrupted to tell you the costs of the services.” BOOM.

Who wants responsible, accountable patients? Everybody. Except…

In my surveys and seminars, physicians tell me they want responsible, accountable patients. I’m calm, I’m rational, I’m doing my best to be proactive and ensure they get their money. But I can’t promise an open-ended checkbook, and I’m not on Medicare (which, if you read the financial form attached, seems the gateway to payment nirvana).

I’m a firm believer in people being paid according to contracts and promptly upon receipt of services. But OM keeps telling me that they just don’t know what all this will cost.

So, I say, “How about if, when I get into the exam room, the doctor and I chat and then he tells me, before he does anything, what estimated costs will be billed?” Note, I’m not asking negotiated fees, even, just retail pricing.

If you know me, you know I tried every which way to get some inkling of an estimate, including sharing my dermatologist’s willingness to tell me the price of the lab review for a specimen.

OM goes back once more and comes out with this: “Dr M will gladly provide you the services you need but he is not responsible for knowing the prices of the services so he cannot provide those, and he doesn’t want to be interrupted with a patient.”

I left. What would you have done?? BTW, I’ve attached the financial guarantee with my name blacked out so you can see what I was I told to sign.




Patient tries to control cost

Jeanne Pinder

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...