Check your medical bills

To the Editor,

On Oct. 29, my wife had an appointment with her primary care physician, who she’s been seeing for over 15 years. As usual, the co-pay was $50 paid in cash. She explained that she had just signed up for Medicare. In November, we received a notice from the Medicare office explaining the charges and showing that we owed $0 of the $200 office visit.

In April, my wife had her six-month visit. In May, we received a bill from the billing service, operated by Weirton Medical Center, stating we owed $67.70, after Medicare paid for $42.30 of the $110 bill. When we contacted the billing service, we spoke to a Bryan W., who would not provide his last name, and he explained that he would check the account and report back to us. Our concerns were reasonable and should have garnered a prompt response. Why was the amount of the bills different? And why was this bill processed differently for Medicare than the last one?

This is a clear example of the failure of modern healthcare to provide clear, transparent explanations for charges and deductions, and the broader failure to talk with patients about the services they provide. While doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals provide high quality services to help us live long, healthy lives, the folks around them – the health insurance providers, the billing firms, and the hospitals – entangle all of us in their hoops and jargon.

Make sure you check your bills! Don’t be duped into paying more than you owe, and don’t let third party agencies make minor “clerical errors” that result in you paying more than you owe. For people in the medical billing industry, you’re just another number. They do not see you as a specific patient whose medical history and care is separate from others. Welcome to the healthcare industrial complex!

We have to stop being afraid to ask questions about our healthcare. How is it that the same medical service can be billed as $200 to Medicare in one year, and suddenly be $110 in another? Who exactly is getting the short end of the stick? Are the medical groups sticking Medicare with a higher bill, seeing the government’s resources as an opportunity to charge higher prices? Or is the government creating unnecessarily complicated procedures for medical groups filing certain forms for Medicare? Something doesn’t smell right, and I still haven’t heard a word from the folks I’ve contacted.

Please be wary of the new ways in which you receive healthcare nowadays. When politicians make laws, they are far more concerned with what sounds good in a television or radio advertisement than whether their ideas are actually sound. What might seem like a good idea on paper might turn into a poorly enforced, impractical program in reality. Make sure you check your bills, and don’t pay anything until someone in a position of authority has explained, in writing, why you are being charged a certain amount and how your deductions are being calculated.

Donald Heltebran