How to Pay Those Impossible Medical Bills

Friday, February 15, 2008

By: Penny McCracken

Reprinted from FMOnline



More than nine years ago, I was drowning in medical bills. Bills for the X-rays, the doctor who read the X-rays, the people who do the blood work, use of the ER, charges for oxygen, even once a bill for $364 for three injections of Novocain! (That doctor billed very creatively. He called three injections of Novocain “Minor Surgery!”)

And no matter how hard I tried to pay, inevitably my tight budget would not permit me to pay them all. I tried paying them by date of service, but then the guys at the end of the line would send me to collection. Creditors would call and insist I would have to pay before such and such date, or they would take me to court. Other doctors’ personnel would call insistently and whine, “Just pay $5 a month.” I finally just threw my hands up and said “Forget it! I still need food! And car payments, and rent, and car insurance, and gee, once in a while, a new blouse or some jeans or underwear.”

For several more months, the bills kept raining. Blizzards of bills. They had already destroyed the credit I had so carefully rebuilt over a period of 10 years, since I had first become ill. The phones, the nasty creditors, the threats never stopped. I could not rest, or read a book, or watch a TV show without these vultures constantly screaming at me. I decided to Take Steps.

I went to the local hospital, and asked to see the hospital administrator. I sat down with him, introduced myself, and said that I had a plan to not only pay the bills, but to save them tons of paperwork.

I said, “I have carefully worked out my budget. I can afford to pay $40 a month. I will, this very day, start an automatic payment to this hospital, to be paid every single month without a fuss. In return, the hospital will pay the other bills. After all, I had no choice as to who would read my X-rays, run my blood and urine tests, or even which ambulance showed up.

“You will pay these bills, in order of service, by date. You, in essence, hired these other doctors. I had no choice in that matter. You have to know how to deal with Medicare/Medicaid and everybody’s private insurance. Your staff already knows all the ins and outs of dealing with Medicare/Medicaid.

“You have already wrecked my credit. You cannot garnish the checks of people living on Social Security. You can get a judgment, but what good will it do? It will only cost you the fees charged by the lawyers, and you can sit here,
spinning your wheels, and not get paid, period! Now, I can call my bank, right this minute, you can speak with the banker, because she is already expecting your call. I have already authorized this payment; all you have to do is speak to her, and the first of next month, you will get $40. Apply that to my bills, and put my bills in order by the date of service.”

To say that he was both angry and nonplussed was an understatement. But he did make the call to my banker, and was assured that the billing was already set up.
tried the experiment. It worked. Four years later, when I left that small town, all my bills were paid, my credit was slowly being restored, and my hospital and doctor bills were paid in full! And the hospital was then looking to see if they could do the same thing with other patients.
primary hospital can be the county hospital. In big cities, it can be the first hospital in which a patient is treated. From then on, all bills are paid to that hospital, without regard to which hospital sees the patient subsequently. Or the patient and his or her family chooses the hospital to whom they want to direct that automatic payment, every month.

Sure, seniors on a tight budget might only be able to afford $5 a month. This sounds like chump change to most hospitals, and their hospital administrators. But magnify that senior by thousands  of other seniors, each paying what they are sure they can afford,  and suddenly, the hospitals and doctors are receiving a stream of money—money that can be relied on. And the hospitals themselves begin to realize savings in their billing costs! No more millions of dollars of wasted time sending otherwise honest citizens bills and envelopes and postage. It gets paid every month.

I know this sounds radical as hell. Hospitals, and their administrators, and probably even the billing departments, would scream and shout, “It can’t be done that way!”

Don’t try to tell me that—I already made it work.