Medical Bills

Here’s something different. Medical insurance isn’t something I’m going to pretend I understand fully, but I know enough to protect my money. So here’s two quick stories about how due diligence saved us hundreds.

First, an overview.

When you see a provider (e.g., doctor), they bill your insurance on your behalf. The claim that’s submitted is reviewed by the insurance’s benefits administrator, and any coverage is paid out. Your insurance will likely have a “disallowed” amount (what your insurance deems is too expensive to be billed for the given service), a benefits paid amount (what insurance pays on your behalf), and then a member responsibility amount (what you owe). Once the claim is processed, these are outlined in an explanation of benefits, or an EOB. If and when you receive a bill from the provider, verify against your EOB to ensure that it aligns with your insurance benefits.

Here’s an example of an EOB. By using a provider that is in-network (in a negotiated agreement plan with my insurance company), the doctor and the insurance have agreed costs for services provided. My insurance’s “allowances” are negotiated with each provider who participates in the network. Allowances may be based on a standard reduction or on a negotiated fee schedule. For these allowances, the provider has agreed to accept the negotiated reduction and you are not responsible for this discounted amount. In these instances, the benefit paid plus your coinsurance equals payment in full. So here, for the services that I received, the insurance company is saying, “I see you billed for $115, but we agreed that this service only costs $65.34, so that’s what we’re allowing.” You, as a covered member, are not charged for the ‘disallow’ amount of $49.66.

In our case, we have a high deductible plan, which means we have to spend a certain amount of money on covered services before the insurance pays out benefits. Ours is $3,000. This means that for the first $3,000 worth of doctors visits to in-network providers, we’re paying the total allowed amount (e.g., our son had to go to the ER, and we paid $609 for the visit, which is the fully allowed amount). There are plans out there where you don’t have a deductible, but you have a copay (e.g., I had a plan where I paid a flat $20 for each doctor’s office visit and $125 for each hospital visit, but I was also paying a higher premium for that coverage type). In a future post, I will share how we compared our plan options and chose a high deductible plan.

After we meet the deductible, most of our services are covered at 95% (i.e., we’re responsible for paying 5% of the allowed charges). In the example above, we had to pay 5% of the $65.34, or $3.27.

There are tons of nuances to insurance though, but hopefully this broad overview helps understand how to read the EOB. I have more stories of where my interpretation of the coverage in my brochure doesn’t seem to match the benefits administered, but those are for another time. For now, here’s how we protected hundreds of dollars by staying on top of our coverage.

MR. ODA’S STORY

Speaking of nuances, here’s one of those. Preventative care is covered at 100% (e.g., maternity screenings and annual physical exams). Mr. ODA needed a physical to qualify for his agency’s wellness program (they’re given 3 hours per week to exercise). When he went to get the physical, it got coded as a sports physical because the doctor had to sign off on a paper that said he was healthy enough to participate in the wellness program. A routine annual physical is fully covered by insurance, regardless of deductible. Apparently, a sports physical is not the same concept and regular coverage requirements apply.

Mr. ODA had to call back to explain that the exam was routine with a signature on paper, and not any more in depth to be considered a sports physical. The doctors office offered a reduction in the amount owed, twice, but eventually realized they were spending more in postage and phone calls than the bill was worth while Mr. ODA fought the coding, and they wrote it off.

MRS. ODA’S STORY

I saw a doctor in December 2019 when having pregnancy complications. In February 2020, I received a bill, which I promptly, and erroneously, paid. A few days ago, I received a check for the amount I paid a year and a half ago. So it wasn’t a quick resolution, but I wasn’t going to let $300 go.

The bill said:
Charges to Date: $451.00
Payments/Discounts to Date: $157.85
Remaining Patient Balance: $293.15

I had seen multiple doctors in a short period of time, so I was just in auto mode to pay all the medical bills that I had. After I paid it, I realized that on the back of the bill there were more details about that “payments/discounts” line item. There were three columns: Insurance Payments, Patient Payments, and Adjustments to Date. The total $157.85 was in the Adjustments to Date column, and the insurance column said $0. I checked into my insurance claims online and didn’t see this date of service. Well, I’m insured, so this should have been submitted to my insurance for review first. I called the hospital to indicate that there was an error made, and I shouldn’t have paid this in full, even with an “uninsured discount” they graciously offered me.

I called the hospital to ask why this wasn’t submitted to my insurance and discovered that my name was spelled wrong, my insurance was entered wrong, and this claim wasn’t tied to all my other hospital-related claims I had processed. Supposedly, they updated my information and resubmitted. I still didn’t see it on my online claim history after the 30-45 day window they told me, so I called again in April 2020. I was told they would resubmit. Two months later, I was managing a newborn and we were just deciding to move, so this fell off my radar. Then all of our things were in storage for two months. By the time I got this paperwork back out, it was March 2021.

I explained my story to the hospital again and asked for it to be properly submitted. I was again told they would submit the claim, but this time they’d submit by paper handling. Again, nothing showed up in my insurance. I called in April 2021 and was again told that they would try submitting again. This time I escalated to a supervisor. I said that this was unacceptable, and I didn’t want to keep being told they would try again, delaying my reimbursement by another 30-45 days each time I called. The supervisor said she would ensure the paper claim was sent out and call me back in a week. I never got the call. On May 18, I called again, immediately asking for a supervisor. This supervisor said that my account showed a refund was approved, but he needed to issue it (why couldn’t that just have been done?!).

Well, on June 1, I received a check in the mail for $293.15. That’s the amount I paid back in February 2020 for a December 2019 date of service. I could have written this off in my mind a year ago and not made these five or six phone calls, taking about 90 minutes of my time in total. I could have said to myself, “I called. There’s nothing more I can do.” But we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in now with our finances if I kept saying “oh well, that’s all I can do.”

The moral of the story is that you should be an informed consumer. If you know how to determine your benefits and calculate your coverage, you can make sure the proper payments are made to the provider, and that you aren’t overcharged.

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