Tips for Lowering Your Medical Bills

Don’t be intimidated by high medical bills. What patients don’t realize is a review to find errors and working with the provider can often enable you to reduce medical bills. To enhance your outcome, enlist the services of a medical bill negotiation expert. With the help of a professional who can provide data, most providers will negotiate and offer some type of discount on out-of-pocket medical expenses. Here are some excellent tips that every health care consumer should know when faced with large and expensive medical bills.

By Alice Park, Time Magazine Online

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally you can catch a mistake on a restaurant check or a miscalculated receipt from the grocery store. Hospital bills, however, are another matter: as many as 8 out of 10 bills for health care services contain errors, according to Medical Billing Advocates of America. Since Americans spend nearly $7,000 per capita on health care every year — and since these expenses climb steadily, at an average annual rate of 6.5% — it’s probably worth scrutinizing the remittance from your last hospital visit. It just might save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

According to medical-billing advocates, who are the health care world’s equivalent of tax-refund specialists, there are ways to protect yourself from huge health care expenditures both before you’re seen by a doctor and after you receive your bill. “When you are in the hospital, you should concentrate on getting better,” says Kevin Flynn, president of HealthCare Associations, a company that helps patients decipher their medical bills. “Do what is best medically first, then worry about the finances second.”

At the emergency room or in the hospital:

If you are insured, ask to be seen by a doctor who participates in your insurance plan. Just because a hospital is considered in-network by your plan doesn’t mean that all the physicians who work there are as well. This may not always be possible, but if your preference is noted in your file, once you receive your bill, you may be able to negotiate with the hospital to accept your insurer’s higher in-network reimbursement rate, leaving you with a smaller financial responsibility, even if you are seen by an out-of-network doctor.

For the same reason, if you are able to, ask to have any lab testing that is sent outside the hospital to be sent to facilities that participate in your insurer’s plan.

If possible, ask about the tests the doctor or nurses are ordering. If a less expensive test can provide the same information, then request that option. In some cases, for example, less expensive ultrasound tests are just as effective as costly CT scans.

Once you get your bill:

Always ask for an itemized bill so you can see every charge.

Ask for an explanation, in writing, from the hospital’s billing department for any disputed charges.

If you go to the hospital at night and end up being admitted after midnight, make sure your charges for the room start on the day you start occupying the room.

Check the level of room for which you were charged. Hospitals charge for ER services by level, depending on the amount of equipment and supplies needed, with Level 1 requiring the fewest (e.g., a nosebleed) and Level 5 representing an emergency (trauma, heart attack). Question the level indicated on your bill and ask for a written explanation of why that level was billed. Hospitals have their own criteria for determining levels and should make this available upon request. “They don’t freely hand this information out, but they will send it to you if you ask for a written response,” says Pat Palmer, founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America.

Doctors also charge for ER services by level, also ranging from 1 to 5. Their levels are standardized, and physicians are required to meet three criteria to justify billing at each level. Question the level listed on your bill and ask for a written explanation of why that level was billed by your physician.

The hospital level should be equal to or lower than that of the doctor-billed level; if it’s higher, that’s a red flag that there may be a billing error.

Question charges for what seem like routine items, such as warm blankets, gloves and lights. These should be included as part of the facility fee.

Question any additional readings of tests or scans. You should be charged only once for one doctor’s reading of a scan, unless it is a second opinion or consultation.

If you received anesthesia, check that you were charged for only one anesthesiologist. Some hospitals use certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) but require that an anesthesiologist supervise the procedure, so some bills will contain charges from both, which amounts to double billing.


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High Medical Bills Driving Some Americans to Extreme Measures

Have you ever delayed, put off or just gone without seeing a physician because of the cost? You would not be alone if you did. A recent study found that many Americans are juggling the high cost of health care by delaying non-essential or non-critical care. In one study, stories of credit card debt and cutting back on food and heating were common, even for the insured.

By Karen Pallarito – HealthDay Reporter

Jan. 18 (HealthDay News)

Insured Americans with serious medical conditions say the financial stress of rising out-of-pocket health care costs is forcing them to juggle household budgets, delay or skimp on care and even run up credit cards or dodge debt collectors, a new study reveals.

The report, published in the January/February issue of the journal Annals of Family Medicine, provides a snapshot of “life disruptions” people experience as a result of their medical expenses and the sometimes extreme measures they take to keep their heads above water.

One study participant was prescribed a drug to alleviate nausea and vomiting caused by his cancer chemotherapy. Insurance picked up $900 of the $1,200 cost, but he could not even afford the co-payment and went without the medicine. “I said, you know what, I’d rather be sick,” he told researchers.

Another paid all her bills but relegated her grocery budget to “whatever’s left.”

“Sadly, our experience with thousands of patients over the last decade has shown us that many of them have to make heartbreaking decisions about following doctors’ orders or putting food on the table for themselves or their families,” said Sarah Di Troia, chief operating officer of Health Leads, a Boston-based organization that works with hospitals and clinics to connect patients to basic resources.

David Lipschutz, policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington, D.C., said the study is important, timely and “reinforces a lot of the other literature out there” examining the effects of out-of-pocket spending.

Medicare has considerable cost-sharing requirements, and many people who have Medicare “simply don’t earn the income in order to afford it,” Lipschutz added.

Consider this: Half of the nation’s Medicare beneficiaries live on less than $22,000 a year, and 45 percent have three or more chronic conditions, according to data compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Medicare beneficiaries spent a median of more than $3,100 of their own money on health expenses in 2007, the most recent comprehensive data, according to the AARP’s Public Policy Institute. Four million beneficiaries, or 10 percent of the Medicare population, shelled out much more. Their out-of-pocket spending topped $7,800.

With health care costs outpacing income growth, study lead author Dr. David Grande, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, wanted to know how families are coping financially.

“My sense is that we focus so much on whether people are covered or not, which is extremely important, we forget how important it is that the coverage is adequate,” he said.

For the study, researchers interviewed 33 insured, chronically ill adults who were applying for financial assistance at a nonprofit foundation to help pay for their treatment costs. People were asked about illness-related financial challenges and their impact on housing, food, utilities, savings, borrowing and health expenses. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and coded for analysis. (more…)

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Health Insurers Raise Some Rates by Double Digits

Insurance premiums are on the rise for 2013! It doesn’t appear that the Affordable Care Act has stemmed the double-digit increases in premium rates charged by health insurers for 2013.

The New York Times – Online

Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.

Dave Jones, the California insurance commissioner, said some insurance companies could raise rates as much as they did before the law was enacted.

Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.

In California, Aetna is proposing rate increases of as much as 22 percent, Anthem Blue Cross 26 percent and Blue Shield of California 20 percent for some of those policy holders, according to the insurers’ filings with the state for 2013. These rate requests are all the more striking after a 39 percent rise sought by Anthem Blue Cross in 2010 helped give impetus to the law, known as the Affordable Care Act, which was passed the same year and will not be fully in effect until 2014.

 In other states, like Florida and Ohio, insurers have been able to raise rates by at least 20 percent for some policy holders. The rate increases can amount to several hundred dollars a month.

The proposed increases compare with about 4 percent for families with employer-based policies.

Under the health care law, regulators are now required to review any request for a rate increase of 10 percent or more; the requests are posted on a federal Web site,, along with regulators’ evaluations.

The review process not only reveals the sharp disparity in the rates themselves, it also demonstrates the striking difference between places like New York, one of the 37 states where legislatures have given regulators some authority to deny or roll back rates deemed excessive, and California, which is among the states that do not have that ability.

New York, for example, recently used its sweeping powers to hold rate increases for 2013 in the individual and small group markets to under 10 percent. California can review rate requests for technical errors but cannot deny rate increases.

The double-digit requests in some states are being made despite evidence that overall health care costs appear to have slowed in recent years, increasing in the single digits annually as many people put off treatment because of the weak economy. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that costs may increase just 7.5 percent next year, well below the rate increases being sought by some insurers. But the companies counter that medical costs for some policy holders are rising much faster than the average, suggesting they are in a sicker population. Federal regulators contend that premiums would be higher still without the law, which also sets limits on profits and administrative costs and provides for rebates if insurers exceed those limits. (more…)

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Analysis: Employees to face healthcare sticker shock

Here we go again. Health care premiums and out-of-network costs are expected to rise in 2013. Read  more about the increases and what they mean for you.

Sun, Oct 28 2012

By Caroline Humer

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Visit to New York City orthopedist: $223. One X-ray: $50. One follow-up magnetic resonance imaging test: $766. Total bill for checking out that aching shoulder: $1,039 – all to be paid by the patient, rather than the insurer.

Healthcare has gone retail.

Over the next 18 months, between one quarter and one half of Americans who get insurance coverage through their employers will pay more of their doctor bills themselves as companies roll out healthcare plans with higher deductibles, benefits consultants say. The result: sticker shock.

“They have huge out-of-pocket costs before they get any insurance coverage, it’s a real slap in the face,” said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a healthcare advocacy group.

High-deductible plans set a threshold for medical expenses that an individual must pay for, often in the thousands of dollars, before insurance kicks in. Studies show people on these plans are three times more likely to delay or skip care than people on traditional plans, where doctor or emergency room visits are covered by a relatively low co-payment.

These plans have been around for years, pushed by employers, insurers and industry experts who believe that consumers with “skin in the game” will drive demand for better quality care at a lower cost. It is a rationale also backed by President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

But now corporate America’s adoption of high-deductible plans is accelerating, partly because of Obama’s healthcare reform, which requires insurance plans to provide more expansive coverage such as preventive care.

Several industry surveys forecast a two-percentage-point increase in the number of companies offering only high-deductible plans in 2013 to about 19 percent, and a larger jump of anywhere from 5 to 25 percentage points in 2014.

“2013 is almost a calm period before a period of intense change in 2014,” according to Randall Abbott of Towers Watson & Co, a Boston-based senior consulting leader at the human resources firm.

The shift means consumers will have to spend many more hours researching their treatment options and managing costs on websites like, which helped budget the cost of examining the shoulder pain mentioned above.

It could also spur lawsuits against doctors whom patients may blame for not making clear whether a test or procedure would spare them future harm, legal experts say. (more…)

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Big Firms Overhaul Health Coverage

Where do the majority of American citizens get their healthcare benefits? From their employer! That may not be the case in the future. Read how two large employers are fundamentally changing the way they provide healthcare benefits to their employees even before implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Wall Street Journal – HEALTH INDUSTRY September 26, 2012, 8:41 p.m. ET


Two big employers are planning a radical change in how they provide health benefits to their workers, giving employees a fixed sum of money and allowing them to choose their medical coverage and insurer from an online marketplace.

Two big employers are planning a radical change in the way they provide health benefits to their workers, giving employees a fixed sum of money and allowing them to choose their medical coverage and insurer from an online marketplace.

Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. say the change isn’t designed to make workers pay a higher share of health-coverage costs. Instead they say it is supposed to put more control over health benefits in the hands of employees.

Darden Restaurants, owner of Red Lobster, is giving staff money and allowing them to choose health coverage.

Some Workers Will Choose From Array of Benefits

The approach will be closely watched by firms around the U.S. If it eventually takes hold widely, it might parallel the transition from company-provided pensions to 401(k) retirement-savings plans controlled by workers and funded partly by employer contributions. For employees, the concern will be that they could end up more directly exposed to the upward march of health costs.

“It’s a fundamental change…the employer is saying, ‘Here’s a pot of money, go shop,’ ” said Paul Fronstin, director of health research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonprofit. The worry for employees is that “the money may not be sufficient and it may not keep up with premium inflation.”

Neither Sears nor Darden would say how much money employees would receive to buy health insurance. Darden says its sum would rise as health-care costs rise. Sears declined to disclose details of its contributions strategy.

Darden did say that employees will pay the same contribution out of their own pockets that they currently do for approximately the same level of coverage. Employees who pick more expensive coverage will pay more from their paychecks to make up the gap. Those who opt for cheaper insurance, which may involve bigger deductibles or more limited networks of doctors and hospitals, will pay less.

“It puts the choice in the employee’s hands to buy up or buy down,” said Danielle Kirgan, a senior vice president at Darden. The owner of chains including Olive Garden and Red Lobster will let its approximately 45,000 full-time employees choose the new coverage in November, to kick in Jan. 1. Darden says that employees with families to cover will be given more money to buy insurance than employees covering just themselves. (more…)

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Same Doctor Visit, Double the Cost

Read about an alarming trend concerning physician practices that will most likely result in greater out of pocket costs to you. Consumers beware; you may pay more for your doctor’s visit than you previously thought. This growing movement is occurring nationwide and is becoming more prevalent as hospitals seek to increase their revenue streams in preparation for the upcoming implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Insurers Say Rates Can Surge After Hospitals Buy Private Physician Practices; Medicare Spending Rises, Too

Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2012

After David Hubbard underwent a routine echocardiogram at his cardiologist’s office last year, he was surprised to learn that the heart scan cost his insurer $1,605. That was more than four times the $373 it paid when the 61-year-old optometrist from Reno, Nev., had the same procedure at the same office just six months earlier.

“Nothing had changed, it was the same equipment, the same room,” said Dr. Hubbard, who has a high-deductible health plan and had to pay about $1,000 of the larger bill out of his own pocket. “I was very upset.”

But something had changed: his cardiologist’s practice had been bought by Renown Health, a local hospital system. Dr. Hubbard was caught up in a structural shift that is sweeping through health care in the U.S.—hospitals are increasingly acquiring private physician practices.

Hospitals say the acquisitions will make health care more efficient. But the phenomenon, in some cases, also is having another effect: higher prices.

As physicians are subsumed into hospital systems, they can get paid for services at the systems’ rates, which are typically more generous than what insurers pay independent doctors. What’s more, some services that physicians previously performed at independent facilities, such as imaging scans, may start to be billed as hospital outpatient procedures, sometimes more than doubling the cost.

The result is that the same service, even sometimes provided in the same location, can cost more once a practice signs on with a hospital.

Major health insurers say a growing number of rate increases are tied to physician-practice acquisitions. The elevated prices also affect employers, many of which pay for their workers’ coverage. A federal watchdog agency said doctor tie-ups are likely resulting in higher Medicare spending as well, because the program pays more for some services performed in a hospital facility.

Renown said in a statement that cardiologists moving into hospital employment helps “eliminate duplication, improve coordination, and reduce hospitalizations,” and with “more proactive management of patients with heart disease, we are working to improve the health and well being of our patients.”

This year, nearly one-quarter of all specialty physicians who see patients at hospitals are actually employed by the hospitals, according to an estimate from the Advisory Board Co. That is more than four times as many as the 5% in 2000. The equivalent share of primary-care physicians has doubled to about 40% in the same time frame. Traditionally, most doctors who see patients at hospitals are in independent practice.

The structural shift is being driven partly by declining reimbursements for physicians, particularly in certain specialties like cardiology. Doctors are also being pressed to make new investments, such as introducing electronic medical records, and some are attracted to the idea of more regular hours with fewer administrative headaches.

Hospitals say they are bringing in physicians to improve care, integrate services and reduce waste, efforts encouraged by the Obama administration’s federal health-overhaul law. Higher reimbursement is needed in some cases, they say, because it costs more to operate outpatient clinics, which must meet strict regulatory requirements and often treat patients who lack insurance.

“You put a hospital name on something, and the expectations change immediately,” said Richard Umbdenstock, chief executive of the American Hospital Association. Indeed, hospital systems often struggle to break even on their physicians, industry officials said.


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Three Ways to Slash Your Medical Bills

Medical Cost Advocate’s CEO Derek Fitteron was recently interviewed for Fox Business. Read the following BLOG post to learn more about reducing medical costs. Dont forget to negotiate your medical bills and save money. It’s worth the effort. In these difficult economic times, why pay list price when you may be able to save.

By: Donna Fuscaldo


Published July 10, 2012

Many things in life are negotiable, including medical bills.

“More and more billing offices, whether it’s a hospital or doctor’s office, are much more receptive to bargaining,” says Nancy Fase Guernon, director of operations at CareCounsel, an health advocacy firm. “There’s definitely ways to negotiate the bill.”

 According to a survey of Angie’s List members who asked for discounts from their doctors, 74% said they were successful. “We’ve heard some great success stories from members who have successfully negotiated with their health care provider,” says Angie Hicks, founder of the peer-review website. “It doesn’t hurt to ask. You’ll be amazed at what you can save and still get great care.”

 From making sure your bill is correct to negotiating ahead of a procedure there are ways to get as much as 40% off your medical bill. Here’s how:

Step One: Check the accuracy of the bill

Medical billing mistakes are common, so review the invoice carefully before submitting payment.  Experts say it’s common for a procedure to be coded wrong by the doctor’s office and lead to excess charges.

 Patients should review their health insurance plan to know what is and is not covered. “You want to make sure if it’s the insurance company’s responsibility to pay it, it’s paying what it should according to the plan,” says Fase Guernon.

 If you don’t have insurance or are going out of network and are paying out of pocket, Derek Fitteron, founder and CEO of Medical Cost Advocate, advises getting a full cost estimate of the procedure upfront to avoid any surprises at the end and you avoid getting overcharged.

 Fitteron also suggests asking for an itemized bill so you can review the charge for every procedure. “Sometimes there are mistakes and those mistakes might include bills for the wrong procedures or procedures that didn’t happen.”

 Step Two: Negotiate Up Front

Think of negotiating health care like shopping for a car. A dealership wants your business and will working with you—same idea applies to a doctor. For instance, many times doctors will reduce their price if you pay in cash or pay for the procedure ahead of time.

 According to Hicks, some hospitals and doctors will cut a health-care bill by as much as 50% if you pay in cash on the day of service. “We had a member from Washington D.C. who saved $9,000 on his mother’s in-home care by bargaining ahead of her treatment.”

 To negotiate ahead of time, experts say it pays to do your homework. Procedure prices vary be region, so know what know what is common in your area before negotiating. “Do the research so you are not throwing out numbers. That can be insulting,” says Fitteron.

 Step Three: Be honest about your financial situation

 If you get hit with a medical bill that you can’t afford, the best thing to do is call your doctor or hospital and honestly explain your financial situation. Often times the medical facility will be willing to reduce the bill as long as you agree to pay something.

 “If you ask the billing office for a discount and you are willing to pay something right then more times than not they will knock down the bill 30% to 40%,” says Fase Guernon.

 Some providers will set up interest-free payment plans. Hicks points to one member who saved $4,000 by talking to her doctor about her financial concerns. The member couldn’t afford the costs that weren’t covered by the insurer so the doctor agreed to collect just the insurance portion, she says.

 “Too many consumers aren’t aware of just how much power they have to negotiate their health-care costs. There are many great doctors, dentists and other health-care specialists out there who are willing and eager to work with their patients to provide them with high quality, affordable care,” says Hicks.

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Healthcare Costs Top $20K Per Family

Here’s some more discouraging news: Healthcare for a family of four now costs as much as small family sedan. For many consumers the price to pay is too much. Even employers are grappling with rise in costs as they struggle to provide healthcare benefits to employees. Read the below article to learn just how much the cost of healthcare has risen in the past few years.


Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media , May 16, 2012

The national annual cost of medical care for a typical family of four with PPO coverage has edged up over $20,000 for the first time, according to the actuarial and consulting firm, Milliman.

The 2012 Milliman Medical Index estimates the annual cost at $20,728. That’s a record $1,335 increase in the total cost of care compared with 2011, and the first time the cost has notched above the $20K mark since Milliman started reporting on these costs twelve years ago. Through a combination of copayments, deductions, and premiums, the prototypical family of four will be responsible for a record share—42%—of its medical costs.

A combination of factors is driving the increase, including the comparative lack of control insurers exert on outpatients costs, a slowdown in hospital bed utilization, and the cost of technology in patient care, explains Chris Girod, principal and consulting actuary in Milliman’s San Diego office and a co-author of the report.

The good news? The pace of the increase is slowing. The 6.9% increase in total costs is the lowest annual rate of increase in more than a decade.

The MMI is comprised of five components: inpatient facility care, outpatient facility care, physician services, pharmacy, and miscellaneous other.

Among the MMI findings:

Outpatient facility costs posted its first single digit increase, 8.6%, in four years, but for the fifth year that increase outpaced all the other MMI components.

Outpatient facility care costs totaled $3,699, or 18% of a family of four’s annual healthcare bill. Girod explains that the level of insurer control is improving under contractual discount arrangements, but still isn’t on par with inpatient controls.

Inpatient facility utilization or the number of inpatient days for a covered population in a year has remained unchanged for several years. However, the patients who are hospitalized tend to require more intensive and expensive services that have helped boost the cost of treatment contributing to a 7.6% increase in the average charge per day costs.

Physician care costs reversed a four-year trend and increased by 5%. Girod says a number of things may have contributed to this cost bump, including evidence of some pushback by physicians in their contract negotiations with health plans.

Hospital inpatient costs ($6,531) and physician costs ($6,647) each account for 32% of a family of four’s total annual healthcare bill.

Pharmacy costs continued their roller coaster ride of cost increases and exceeded $3,000 for the first time. The 7.3% increase is down slightly from 2011’s 8%, but a significant increase over 2010’s 6%. Pharmacy costs totaled $3,056 or 15% of the family’s total annual healthcare bill. Girod says that while the shift to generics has helped slowed the growth in pharmacy costs, the expense of specialty drugs will have a growing impact on this cost trend.

The cost of miscellaneous other services such as durable medical equipment, ambulance services and home health posted a 6.7% increase to $795.

In addition to looking at costs on a nationwide basis, for the last five years the Index has looked at comparative healthcare costs in the same 14 cities across the country, including Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.

With a current annual cost of $24,965, Miami has topped the list for five years. Girod explains that Miami has a large number of healthcare practitioners and capacity helps drive the demand for healthcare services. Also, the practice of defensive medicine is more prevalent in the Miami area.

Phoenix was the least expensive with a cost of $18,365 for a family of four.

For the 2012 study, healthcare costs in 11 of the 14 cities exceeded $20,000 annually for a typical family of four. In 2011 only six of the 14 cities posted costs in excess of $20,000. While that could suggest an easing in the geographic differences in the cost of healthcare, Girod says a more likely explanation is that “the entire scale is shifting up, both at the bottom and the top, so we just ended up with more cities over that $20,000 threshold.”

The report notes that so far the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has had “only a limited effect on total healthcare costs for the illustrative family of four.”

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Billing Errors in Health Care Abound as System Heads for More Complexity

New coding requirements may create even more disarray in an already complex industry. The result could leave consumers with a greater sense of confusion in understanding medical bills.

Written by: Ruth McCambridge

Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer

As health care systems prepare for all of the many changes that the Affordable Care Act will entail, there is one that is relatively hidden from view: the ten-fold increase in billing codes that the federal government is planning to roll out next year (pushed back from a planned launch this year).

Stephen Parente, a professor of health finance and insurance at the University of Minnesota, claims that his research on medical billing found that up to 40 percent of claims sent between insurers and hospitals have errors. These errors, often caused by human error but sometimes the result of alleged fraud, may include double billing, billing for the wrong treatment, unexpected costs, or billing that is more than what an insurance contract allows. The American Medical Association claims these mistakes cost health care providers $17 billion last year and it blames insurance company practices, but others say the blame can be shared, and this article details many problems with hospital billing practices as well.

According to Kevin Theiss, a vice president at the Summa Health System, at the Summa Akron City Hospital, as many as 250 people may take part in the billing process, including intake workers, doctors and nurses and those who assign billing codes. He says that the potential for mistakes at the hospitals is “astronomical.” In the midst of all of this, a change is brewing that is likely to make the whole system even more impenetrable for consumers. That is, the federal government, which requires that all medical billing use the same set of 16,000 universal codes (called ICD-9 codes) to identify medical problems and treatments, is planning to increase the number of codes to 155,000. While rolling out these new codes has been delayed by a year, the project is apparently moving forward apace. Some, including the American Medical Association, are heralding the delay. Even before new codes are introduced, the complexity of the current system has created what the article describes as a “cottage industry” of experts that are there to advocate between institutional players.

“There are certified coders, ‘revenue cycle’ consultants, auditors who check claims, ‘denial management’ experts who step in for hospitals and doctors to help negotiate with payers for more money, and debt collectors who specialize in ‘accounts payable,’ or the bills hospitals and doctors think they can get the patients to pay if they press hard enough.

Consumers, in contrast, have no army of experts. They pretty much just have themselves and their bills.”

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Insurers Alter Cost Formula, and Patients Pay More

Beware of even greater out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Read the following article and learn how insurers are shifting the cost of out-of-network care to consumers.

Doug Benz / The New York Times

Despite a landmark settlement that was expected to increase coverage for out-of-network care, the nation’s largest health insurers have been switching to a new payment method that in most cases significantly increases the cost to the patient.

Jennifer C. Jaff, founder of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness. She has Crohn’s disease.

The settlement, reached in 2009, followed New York State’s accusation that the companies  manipulated data they used to price such care, shortchanging the nation’s patients by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The agreement required the companies to finance an objective database of doctors’ fees that patients and insurers nationally could rely on. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, then the attorney general, said it would increase reimbursements by as much as 28 percent.

It has not turned out that way. Though the settlement required the companies to underwrite the new database with $95 million, it did not obligate them to use it. So by the time the database was finally up and running last year, the same companies, across the country, were rapidly shifting to another calculation method, based on Medicare rates, that usually reduces reimbursement substantially.

“It’s deplorable,” said Chad Glaser, a sales manager for a seafood company near Buffalo, who learned that he was facing hundreds of dollars more in out-of-pocket costs for his son’s checkups with a specialist who had performed a lifesaving liver transplant. “I could get balance-billed hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I have no protection.”

Insurance companies defend the shift toward Medicare-based rates under the settlement, which allowed any clear, objective method of calculating reimbursement. They say that premiums would be even costlier if reimbursements were more generous, and that exorbitant doctors’ fees are largely to blame.

But few dispute that as the nation debates an overhaul aimed at insuring everybody, the new realpolitik of reimbursement is leaving millions of insured families more vulnerable to catastrophic medical bills, even though they are paying higher premiums, co-payments and deductibles.

“They’re not getting what they think they’re paying for,” said Benjamin M. Lawsky, the superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, whose investigators recently found that under the switch, 4.7 million New York State residents — 76 percent of those with out-of-network coverage — are facing reimbursement reductions of 50 percent or more.

The switch “certainly creates the appearance that insurers are trying to end-run the settlement and keep out-of-network payments low,” Mr. Lawsky said.

Mr. Lawsky, who worked for Mr. Cuomo when he was attorney general, is seeking legislation in New York State to require that minimum reimbursements be linked to the new database, known as Fair Health. (more…)

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