To watch it subtitled in English, go to settings➡️subtitles➡️auto translate➡️English.
Our company receives many inquiries like this. Stella had approached us last April, emotionally distraught over the thousands of dollars in medical bills she was receiving related to the premature birth of her triplets. One of our expert medical billing advocates was assigned to take her case. She was very happy with the favorable outcome (a reduction in her final balance by an incredible amount), and so were we. Like Stella, we may be able to help you too.
The US is the most expensive nation in the world in which to have a baby – and it may factor into thousands of bankruptcies each year.
Tue 16 Jan 2018
Jessica Glenza in New York – The Guardian
Stella Apo Osae-Twum and her husband did everything by the book. They went to a hospital covered by insurance, saw an obstetrician in their plan, but when her three sons – triplets – were born prematurely, bills started rolling in.
The hospital charged her family $877,000 in total.
“When the bills started coming, to be very honest, I was an emotional wreck,” said Apo Osae-Twum. “And this is in the midst of trying to take care of three babies who were premature.”
America is the most expensive nation in the world to give birth. When things go wrong – – from preeclampsia to premature birth – costs can quickly spiral into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. While the data is limited, experts in medical debt say the costs of childbirth factor into thousands of family bankruptcies in America each year.
It’s nearly impossible to put a price tag on giving birth in America, since costs vary dramatically by state and hospital. But one 2013 study by the advocacy group Childbirth Connection found that, on average, hospitals charged $32,093 for an uncomplicated vaginal birth and newborn care, and $51,125 for a standard caesarean section and newborn care. Insurance typically covers a large chunk of those costs, but families are still often on the hook for thousands of dollars.
Another estimate from the International Federation of Health Plans put average charges for vaginal birth in the US at $10,808 in 2015, but that estimate excludes newborn care and other related medical services. That is quintuple the IFHP estimate for another industrialized nation, Spain, where it costs $1,950 to deliver a child, and the cost is covered by the government.
Even the luxurious accommodations provided to the Duchess of Cambridge for the birth of the royal family’s daughter Princess Charlotte – believed to have cost up to $18,000 – were cheaper than many average births in America.
Despite these high costs, the US consistently ranks poorly in health outcomes for mothers and infants. The US rate of infant mortality is 6.1 for every 1,000 live births, higher than Slovakia and Hungary, and nearly three times the rate of Japan and Finland. The US also has the worst rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. That means America is simultaneously the most expensive and one of the riskiest industrialized nations in which to have children.
American families rarely shoulder the full costs of childbirth on their own – but still pay far more than in other industrialized nations. Nearly half of American mothers are covered by Medicaid, a program available to low income households that covers nearly all birth costs. But people with private insurance still regularly pay thousands of dollars in co-pays, deductibles and partially reimbursed services when they give birth. Childbirth Connection put the average out of pocket childbirth costs for mothers with insurance at $3,400 in 2013.
In Apo Osae-Twum’s case, private insurance covered most of the $877,000 bill, but her family was responsible for $51,000.
Apo Osae-Twum was the victim of what is called “surprise billing”. In these cases, patients have no way of knowing whether an ambulance company, emergency room physician, anesthesiologist – or, in her case, a half dozen neonatologists – are members of the patient’s insurance plan.
Even though Apo Osae-Twum went to a hospital covered by her insurance, none of the neonatologists who attended to her sons were “in-network”. Therefore the insurance reimbursed far less of their bills.
There are few studies that estimate the number of families who go bankrupt from this type of unexpected expense. One of the best estimates is now outdated – conducted 10 years ago. But one of the authors of that research, Dr Steffie Woolhandler, estimates as many as 56,000 families each year still go bankrupt from adding a new family member through birth or adoption.
“Why any society should let anyone be bankrupted by medical bills is beyond me, frankly,” said Woolhandler. “It just doesn’t happen in other western democracies.”
Since Woolhandler conducted that research in 2007, 20 million Americans gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act health reform law, and consumer protections were added for pregnant women. But Republicans and the Trump administration have pledged to repeal these consumer protections.
“People face a double whammy when they’re faced with a medical condition,” said Woolhandler. Bankruptcy is often, “the combined effect of medical bills and the need to take time off work”.
There is no nationwide law that provides paid family leave in the US, meaning most families forego income to have a child.
And although childbirth is one of the most common hospital procedures in the nation, prices are completely opaque. That means Americans don’t know how much a birth will cost in advance.
Dr Renee Hsia, an emergency department physician at the University of California San Francisco and a health policy expert likened the experience to buying a car, but not knowing whether the dealership sells Fords or Lamborghinis. “You don’t know, are you going to have a complication that is a lot more expensive? And is it going to be financially ruinous?”
According to Hsia’s 2013 study, a “California woman could be charged as little as $3,296 or as much as $37,227 for a vaginal delivery, and $8,312 to $70,908 for a caesarean section, depending on which hospital she was admitted to.”
Apo Osae-Twum and her family only found relief after a professional medical billing advocate agreed to take their case. Medical Cost Advocate in New Jersey, where Derek Fitteron is CEO, negotiated with doctors to lower the charges to $1,300.
“This is why people are scared to go to the doctor, why they go bankrupt, and why they forego other things to get care from their kids,” said Hsia. “I find it heartbreaking when patients say… ‘How much does this cost?’
The debate continues in New Jersey and New York regarding what to do about out-of-network charges and balance bills when the consumer has no opportunity to choose or shop for care. Several State Legislatures are trying to tackle this problem in order to protect the consumer from large unexpected medical bills. Another related challenge is who should take the financial burden of these bills: the insurance company – by paying out of network bills, or the medical provider – by accepting less payment.
Restarting N.J. hospital billing debate
By Lindy Washburn, The Record
Michael Young, a 24-year-old college student, thought he was going to die a year ago May when he called 911 while visiting his father in Paramus.
It turned out he had appendicitis. The ambulance took him to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, where a surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy.
Now Young faces a different kind of crisis: The anesthesiologist that night at The Valley Hospital is suing him for $2,200 — after his insurer paid $726.
Surprise medical bills just keep coming for patients in New Jersey, five months after the Legislature’s effort to fix the problem died. Some come from hospital-based doctors who don’t accept the same insurance plans as the hospital where they work. Others are received by patients with out-of-state or federally regulated coverage who go to out-of-network emergency rooms — New Jersey regulations that require the insurer to protect its members from balance billing in such cases don’t apply to their plans.
Young gets his coverage through a family insurance plan for retired New York City employees; it is outside the jurisdiction of New Jersey regulations.
His anesthesiologist was part of Bergen Anesthesia group, which does not participate in his insurance plan. There were no other choices when the ambulance took him to Valley because it is the sole provider of anesthesia services there.
The insurer — GHI/EmblemHealth — paid about a quarter of the $2,900 he was charged for anesthesiology for lower abdominal surgery under emergency conditions. GHI used its own fee schedule to determine what they considered appropriate; Bergen Anesthesia billed Young for the remainder.
Now Young is stuck with the charges. He has no income of his own.
Other recent examples include:
–At one hospital, the father of a 3-year-old who needed emergency stitches was surprised when the plastic surgeon billed him $2,000, on top of the $3,800 he received from the insurer. When the father took it up with a hospital executive, the executive said his options were limited because the plastic surgeon did not participate in any insurance plans. But he called the surgeon, who agreed to waive the rest of his fee after the child’s father paid $900 — his remaining deductible — toward the balance.
–Another couple chose a Bergen County hospital as their baby’s birthplace because it was in their insurer’s network. They were surprised to learn — when the bills came — that the anesthesiologist, surgeon and neonatologist at the hospital did not participate in their insurance plan. The plan, purchased through the Affordable Care Act on HealthCare.gov, provides no out-of-network coverage.
–In Hudson County, all three hospitals owned by for-profit CarePoint Health no longer participate in the network of the state’s largest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Hoboken University Medical Center was the last to opt out, as of Wednesday, when its contract ended. The three, including hospitals in Bayonne and Jersey City, are also out-of-network for Aetna, Cigna, Health Republic of New Jersey, Oscar Health Insurance and UnitedHealthcare. The vast majority of CarePoint’s patients enter through the facilities’ emergency rooms, which enables the hospitals to demand payment from insurers for their charges, among the highest in the nation, while leaving the patient’s obligation the same as it would have been at an in-network facility.
Ward Sanders, president of the state Association of Health Plans, condemned that business model on Thursday, when he renewed his industry’s call for legislative reforms. “New Jersey has become a hotbed for unconscionable out-of-network billing practices,” he said. “Certain facilities and providers … engage in predatory pricing, surprising consumers with unexpected bills, and creating exorbitant costs for consumers, employers and unions.”
“It’s time for the Legislature to step in,” he said.
Now that the logjam over Atlantic City has been broken, lawmakers say they are gearing up to try again on what Democrats and Republicans agree is a pocketbook issue. But recent developments affecting the state’s hospitals may make it more difficult. Legislation that could reduce hospital revenues or diminish their leverage with insurers will be seen as a problem, and lawmakers with hospitals in their districts are likely to hear about it.
Hospitals take a hit
The launch of the Omnia health plan by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey alienated half of the state’s 62 hospitals by labeling them as Tier 2, a non-preferred status expected to lead fewer patients to seek care at their facilities, and thus lower revenues. In addition, 30 non-profit hospitals face lawsuits — and the potential loss of their property-tax exemptions — after a precedent-setting state Tax Court decision and Governor Christie’s veto of legislation that would have protected them. And hospitals are fighting additional cuts in state charity care funding this year.
Nevertheless, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a Demarest Republican and health professional himself — he’s a dentist — has begun circulating his own version of the “Out-of-Network Consumer Protection, Transparency, Cost Containment and Accountability Act” first introduced last year by three Assembly Democrats and the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex.
Cardinale’s version is somewhat friendlier to doctors and hospitals, because it would rely on peer review — one panel for doctors and one for hospitals — to settle disputes when insurers and out-of-network providers disagree over how much should be paid for a service. The original version relied on “baseball arbitration” — a choice of one side’s final offer — by outside professional arbitrators.
The Democratic sponsors of the measure that failed last session — Assemblyman Craig Coughlin of Middlesex, and Assemblymen Gary S. Schaer of Passaic and Troy Singleton of Burlington, along with Vitale — have met with interest groups and say they plan to meet again to see what changes might help the bill win passage. And Citizen Action, the consumer advocacy group, plans to call attention to the problem of surprise medical bills at an event in mid-June.
All aim to take the consumer out of the middle of such disputes.
And that’s a goal with which the state hospital association, which did not support the measure last year, can agree. It has suggested changes that would give hospitals a bigger role in preventing staff anesthesiologists and other hospital-based specialists from billing patients beyond their in-network financial obligation after the insurer has paid.
By PAULINE W. CHEN, M.D.
Interesting piece about the unintended cost and consequences of hospital re-admissions. Spectacular advances in medical science have led to a growing population of patients who are “hospital-dependent” adding great cost to the healthcare system.
“He’s back?” my colleague asked, eyes widening as she passed the patient’s room. “He’s in the hospital again?”
Slender, pale and in his late 60s, the man had first been admitted nearly a year earlier with pressure in his chest so severe he had trouble breathing. When his heart stopped, doctors and nurses revived him by injecting the latest life-saving medicines into his veins and applying the newest electrical defibrillator paddles to his chest.
Within minutes, the cardiology team arrived, but when the blockage in the arteries of his heart proved too extensive for even their state-of-the-art techniques and equipment, they handed him off to the waiting surgeons. The surgeons, in turn, cooled down his heart until it stopped beating, sewed in bypass conduits with threads finer than human hairs, restarted the heart with a few well-placed jolts of electricity and then transferred the patient to the cutting-edge intensive care unit to recover.
The man survived. Sort of.
Weakened by this string of emergencies, he required a breathing machine for several days. When excess fluid in his lungs caused shortness of breath, he needed intravenous diuretics. When his heart began beating erratically, he was obliged to take a finely tuned cocktail of heart medications. And when his chest wound became infected, he had to return to the operating room.
Finally, after nearly two months in the hospital, he was discharged to a skilled nursing center. But then a urinary tract infection made him dizzy and confused, and he went right back to the hospital, beginning a cycle of discharge and re-admittance that would persist for almost a year.
To many of us who had cared for the man, it seemed as if he had spent more days in the hospital than out.
“What kind of life is that?” my colleague asked as we stood in the hallway and watched the man’s wife help him once again put on his hospital gown and pack away his street clothes. “You’ve got to wonder,” she whispered, “did we really do him a favor when we ‘saved’ him?”
I was reminded of the frail man and the many patients like him whom I have known when I read a recent Perspective piece in The New England Journal of Medicine titled “The Hospital-Dependent Patient.”
Over the last 30 years, American hospitals have become a showcase of medical progress, saving lives that not long ago would have been lost.
“Rapid response teams,” drilled in precision teamwork and the latest techniques of critical care, have become commonplace. Cardiac and respiratory monitors, once found only in intensive care units, are now standard equipment on most wards and even in many patient rooms. CAT scanners and M.R.I. machines, once rare, have become de rigueur, with some hospitals boasting duplicates and even triplicates.
But up to one-fifth of patients treated with these new medical advances and then deemed well enough to leave the hospital end up being re-admitted within 30 days of their discharge, at considerable cost. Insurers and third-party payers have begun penalizing health care systems for these quick re-admissions; and hospitals, in response, have begun significant efforts to improve the transition from hospital to home, creating clinics that remain open beyond usual working hours and marshaling teams of care coordinators, post-discharge pharmacists and “care transition coaches.”
The problem persists, though, because our spectacular advances in medical science have led to a growing population of patients who are “hospital-dependent,” according to the authors of the Perspectives article.
Hospital-dependent patients are those who, a generation ago, were doomed to die. Now they are being saved. But they are not like the so-called hot spotters, a group of patients more commonly associated with frequent re-admissions who return to the hospital because of inadequate follow-up care, failure to take prescriptions correctly or difficult socioeconomic circumstances. Instead, hospital-dependent patients come back because they are so fragile, their grasp on health so tenuous, that they easily “decompensate,” or deteriorate under stress, when not in the hospital.
Medical advances can snatch them from the clutches of death, but not necessarily free them from dependence on near-constant high-tech monitoring and treatments.
“They are like a house of cards,” said Dr. David B. Reuben, lead author of the article and chief of the division of geriatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “When one thing goes wrong, they collapse.”
Not surprisingly, hospital-dependent patients feel more secure and are happier in the hospital than at home. While clinicians and even family members may judge theirs a diminished existence, these patients find their quality of life acceptable, relishing their time with friends and family or engaged in passive hobbies like watching sports or reading the newspaper, albeit in the hospital.
Over time, however, their recurring presence can result in conflicted feelings among those who were responsible for saving them in the first place. Some clinicians even begin to resent their obligation to continue administering resource-intensive care. “Physicians are socialized to cure patients, then move on,” Dr. Reuben observed. “They want to treat patients, not adopt them.”
Dr. Reuben and his co-author offer potential solutions, such as specialized wards or facilities that would be more intensive than skilled nursing homes yet less costly than a hospital. But they are quick to add that more research must also be done. Their concept of “hospital-dependency” is a new one, so no research is available to help identify patients at risk of becoming hospital-dependent, estimate the percentage of early re-admissions they are responsible for or calculate the costs they incur.
Even without studies, it’s clear that the numbers of these patients are increasing. With every triumphant medical advance, there are patients who are cured but who remain too fragile to live beyond the immediate reach of the technology that saved them. Until we begin making different decisions regarding how we allocate our resources, their presence will be a constant reminder of which medical research and health care we consider worthy and which we do not.
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL New York Times
This is an excellent article outlining the problems people can run into by allowing medical bills to go unpaid. It takes a long time to decipher what you actually owe, but providers can report you to credit agencies for late payment very quickly. People in these types of situations have reason to worry.
LIKE most people, I am generally vigilant about paying my bills — credit cards, mortgage, cellphone and so on. But medical bills have a different trajectory. I (usually) open the envelopes and peruse the amalgam of codes and charges. I sigh or swear. And set them aside for when I have time to clarify the confusion: An out-of-network charge from a doctor I know is in-network? An un-itemized laboratory bill from a doctor I’ve never heard of? A bill for a huge charge before my insurer has paid its yet unknown portion of a hospital’s unknowable fee?
I would never countenance the phrase “60 days past due” on my Visa card statement. But medical bills? Well… with the complex negotiations that determine my ultimate payment, it often takes months to understand what I actually owe.
Unfortunately, I may be playing a dangerous game. Mounting evidence shows that chaos in medical billing is not just affecting our health care but dinging the financial reputation of many Americans: While the bills themselves frequently take months to sort out, medical debts can be reported rapidly to credit agencies, and often without notification. And even small unpaid bills can severely damage credit ratings.
A mortgage initiator in Texas, Rodney Anderson of Supreme Lending, recently looked at the credit records of 5,000 applicants and found that 40 percent had medical debt in collection, with the average around $400; even worse, most applicants were unaware of their debt. Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has noted that half of all accounts reported by collection agencies now come from medical bills, and the credit record of one in five Americans is affected.
A single medical bill reported to a credit agency can easily become a “millstone around your neck” said Mark Rukavina, principal at Community Health Advisors, a health care advisory service. He added: “It will take a long time to make that right, even once the bill is paid. I’ve had mortgage brokers call me and say ‘I have these people with great credit. They’ve refinanced before, but now they’ve got this medical bill and even though they’ve paid it off, I can’t get them a good rate.’ ”
Part of the problem is that there are few standards governing medical debts: One billing office might give you — or your insurer — 60 days to pay before pursuing collection. Another might allow you to pay off a bill slowly over a year. Many will sell the debt to collection companies, which typically take a cut of the proceeds and decide when or whether to report unpaid debt to credit agencies.
The problem is accelerating for several reasons. Charges are rising. Insurance policies are requiring more patient outlays in the form of higher deductibles and co-payments. More important, perhaps, is that while doctors’ practices traditionally worked out deals for patients who had trouble paying, today many doctors work for large professionally managed groups and hospital systems whose bills are generated far away, by computer.
Both Congress and the protection bureau have been trying to better insulate patient credit scores from the inefficiencies of our market-based medical system. Various proposals have been considered to differentiate medical debt from other forms; it could be erased once it has been paid off or not reported to credit agencies at all, for example. So far, the credit industry has fought successfully against such efforts, noting that they could allow some genuine scofflaws to evade legitimate charges. But it’s also good business, since health care bills are now the largest source of business for collection companies, according to consumer protection agency officials.
Having spent the last year reporting a series on American health costs, I’ve heard plenty about credit casualties.
Gene Cavallo, 61, a New Mexico businessman who put his children through college, had always paid his bills promptly and had an excellent credit rating, until he required surgical excision of a melanoma on his shin two years ago. The more than 60 bills generated for the surgery and six months of follow-up visits — arriving sporadically and ranging from 18 cents to $17,000 — came to $110,000; his insurance covered about $70,000.
When various providers asked him to pay the remaining $40,000, he requested itemized bills and balked at some of the “ridiculously inflated prices,” such as $85 for tweezers and $20 for a box of tissues. He argued the bills point by point, and ultimately agreed to pay $25,000.
But during the negotiations some of the debt was sent to collection. Two years later, he no longer answers the daily robocalls from collection agencies and has had a couple of credit cards canceled because his score has fallen. “It was a scary thing to do because I own a business and dabble in real estate, so the ability to borrow has always been important to me. And now I have no ability, I assume, to borrow for any reason.”
Michael S., who declined to give his full name so as to protect his reputation with business clients, had to declare bankruptcy in Wisconsin more than five years ago after a fraught year in which his toddler was evaluated for what proved to be a benign neurological condition that required no treatment: “You’d get bills for several different doctors’ groups and for tests and M.R.I.s and you don’t know what they are. I was having trouble figuring out who we owed what. And then, if it goes to collection, then suddenly they’re saying we need this paid now.”
With medical expenses, unlike most other purchases, you generally don’t know the price the hospital will charge in advance. And the subsequent bills and insurance statements — so-called explanations of benefits — are often layered in obfuscation and pressure tactics.
Consider Chris Sullivan of Pennsylvania, whose $2,770 bill for an echocardiogram offered a “prompt payment” discount of 20 percent if he wrote a check within 21 days — meaning a discount for not asking questions on a bill for a test he was told would be under $300.
Another “explanation of benefits” statement notified Joe Cotugno of New York City that his two-day hospital stay for a hip replacement was billed at $99,469.70 (doctors’ fees not included). Cigna paid $68,420.53 after knocking off some $28,000 and requiring Mr. Cotugno to pay $3,018.41. So, it informed him, “You saved 96 percent.” Huh?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been studying the impact of medical billing on credit scores since 2012, acknowledging that unpaid medical bills in collection “frequently end up on consumer credit reports,” as an outgrowth of “very complex and confusing systems of figuring out who owes what after a medical procedure.” Mr. Cordray, the bureau’s director, said it would take appropriate action if harmful practices were identified.
Bills in Congress that would regulate the practices have been stalled for years. The Medical Debt Relief Act was passed by the House in 2010, but never made it to a Senate vote. After a modified version of the bill failed to pass again last year, another act was recently introduced in the Senate and House.
Meanwhile, patients are right to worry. When Matt Meyer, who owns a saddle-fitting company in New Hampshire, set up a monthly payment plan after some surgery, he was distressed to notice that the invoices came from a debt collector. “I had no idea this was considered debt,” he said, and wondered: “Are they reporting that” to a credit agency?
By Sarah Kliff
Below is an interesting piece by Sarah Kliff on how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it. At this stage, the report card for the program depends largely on who you ask.
Fliers promoting the Get Covered Illinois health insurance marketplace sit in a box at the Bureau County Health Department offices in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Todays deadline for Americans to sign up for Obamacare health coverage effective Jan. 1 was extended until midnight tomorrow as heavy traffic to the online enrollment system caused a queuing system to be activated.
If you want to believe Obamacare is going great, you should call up Linda Browne. She’s a 62-year-old retired accountant from California who already has an appointment to see her new primary-care doctor at Kaiser Permanente, the new health insurer she signed up with through Covered California.
“I thought I would have to wait a long time,” Browne says. “But when I called, they said she had an appointment Wednesday for a physical.”
If you’d prefer to believe Obamacare is going terribly, then Michael D. Scott has got a story for you. He’s a 36-year-old Texan who turned up at a pharmacy last week trying to fill a $700 prescription for anti-seizure medication — only to find the technicians had no record of his enrollment.
“I’m stuck,” says Scott, who takes the prescription to treat a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. “I’m going to have to start buying a couple days’ worth on my own if they can’t figure things out. It’s disappointing.”
Both Browne and Scott signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Browne has had the law work pretty well; Scott has spent hours on the phone with customer service representatives (actually, he spent one hour and 37 minutes on his last call — yes, he timed it). And stories like theirs are about to become central to the next Obamacare fight, what I like to think of as the battle of the anecdotes.
The battle of the anecdotes is all-but-guaranteed because access to health care is really difficult to measure, even more so than the number of people who have enrolled or how well HealthCare.gov is functioning. With enrollment, for example, HealthCare.gov can track all the people who pick a private insurance plan, as can the 14-state based insurance exchanges. That’s how we know 2.1 million people have selected private insurance plans (although we don’t know how many have paid their first month’s premium, which is due, for January coverage, by this Friday).
The federal government can gauge how well HealthCare.gov is working by tracking how long it takes pages to load, or how many enrollment files — known as ‘834s’ — contain errors. And the call centers know, too, how long customers have to wait to get a person on the line.
But when it comes to access to health care, there’s no analogous metric. Our health-care system is really fragmented. Since HealthCare.gov shoppers are buying private coverage, and not a government plan, we have no central clearing house to understand whether more shoppers are having an experience like Scott in Texas — or like Browne in California.
Nonprofit institutions do study these types of questions. The Commonwealth Fund, for example, regularly looks at how long patients in different countries have to wait to see a primary-care doctor or a particular surgeon. But these surveys take months to conduct and analyze, meaning that we will probably have to wait until late 2014 or early 2015 to get a sense of what access looks like under the Affordable Care Act.
Enter the anecdote, which can be great to understand how new policy programs are impacting the way that Americans receive health care. But they can also be a really terrible way to gauge whether Obamacare is going great — or is a complete disaster. One or two stories don’t do a great job of capturing the experience of the millions of Americans who have signed up for health plans.
And even the anecdotes themselves can be nuanced, portrayed in different ways to make Obamacare seem great, or horrible. Take Browne: She called for an appointment in her new network the morning of Jan. 2. But she couldn’t get through to a real, live person until that afternoon; she kept getting a message that said “all circuits are busy.”
By JUDITH GRAHAM, NY Times
This article points out the difficulty in financing long term care for the elderly. Experts believe more focus should be on finding ways to provide affordable care within the efforts to reform Medicare and Medicaid. For now, families continue to bear the brunt of the cost associated with caring for the elderly.
The federal Long-Term Care Commission published its full report on Wednesday, but it did little to change the perception that substantial relief for caregivers will be a long time coming.
The commission had endorsed a package of 28 recommendations late last week, prior to the release of the full report. Among other measures, the recommendations call for recognizing caregivers as members of “care teams,” including information about caregivers in patient records, assessing caregivers’ need for support, and making services like respite care more widely available.
But this group of 15 experts couldn’t agree on how to pay for long-term care services needed by frail older adults or people with disabilities. The full report doesn’t change that.
Currently, only those who are impoverished and qualify for Medicaid get significant assistance from the government for long-term care. For the most part, middle-class families are left to bear the burdensome expenses: $18 an hour on average for homemaker services, $19 an hour for home healthcare aids, $3,405 a month for assisted living, $230 a day for a private nursing home room, according to the latest report from Genworth Financial.
How to ease this financial burden was the most important issue facing the commission. In the end, the report proposed two alternatives: some kind of government insurance program for long-term care, or some kind of private insurance option. Then commission members essentially threw up their hands, admitting they couldn’t agree.
When my colleague Paula Span wrote about the commission earlier this year, she asked whether its work would elicit a yawn or a cheer. For many, the answer is neither. Even some commission members feel a sharp sense of frustration and disappointment.
One is Judy Feder, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, who voted against the commission’s final recommendations on the grounds that they didn’t fulfill Congress’s charge to come up with a comprehensive solution. I asked her about a statement from six of her fellow commissioners insisting that any new long-term care program not enlarge public budgets.
“The current system has a budgetary implication,” Dr. Feder said. “It sticks it to families.”
Another disappointed member is Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “The vision in the majority report is not much more than we have now,” she said. “It is, ‘Plan, understand, think about savings and insurance, and provide for those who are impoverished.’ That kind of approach doesn’t meet our long-term care needs now, and it won’t meet them in the future.”
While several of the commission’s recommendations are welcome, they will make a difference only “around the margins,” Ms. Stein said.
Families will bear the consequences, said Ms. Stein and other experts. Elderly spouses will continue to struggle to care for each other, and adult children will strain to balance jobs and the needs of frail parents and their own children. Untold numbers of aging Americans won’t get enough care, and caregivers will suffer from stress and depression, endangering their own health.
If a public insurance program is unaffordable, as several commission members claimed, might the private market supply a solution to the aging population’s need for affordable long-term care? That seems unlikely. Premiums for private long-term care insurance have been rising dramatically, policies are becoming more restrictive, insurers have been exiting the market, and bureaucratic red tape makes it difficult for many individual and families to receive expected benefits.
Financially, the only way to make private insurance work is to spread risk over a wide base of policy holders. But the cost of long-term care coverage makes it unlikely that millions of healthy people will purchase policies. This was the economic calculus that doomed the Class Act, the voluntary long-term care insurance program that was originally part of the Affordable Care Act.
Is there a way forward? The long-term care commission recommended two options: convening a White House conference on aging to consider long-term care policies, and establishing yet another advisory committee to continue its work. But, said Dr. Joanne Lynn, a geriatrician who directs the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at the Altarum Institute, “The administration has shown no interest in having that happen, and here we are on the cusp of the largest generation in history growing old.”
She believes that it’s a mistake to separate long-term care from broader reforms of Medicare and the health care delivery system. The two systems of caring for people with disabilities and older adults need to be much more tightly integrated, Dr. Lynn said. Savings from eliminating inappropriate medical care — by some estimates, as much as one-third of all care — could be used to finance the expansion of long-term care services, she suggested.
As for another commission, is there any reason to hope it will be more successful in tackling critical issues when advocates of smaller government are committed to standing against a new federal insurance program for long-term care that might rely, at least in part, on public financing?
“I think this will be a hard discussion, but it is one that we as a country will have to grapple with,” said Dr. Bruce Chernof, the commission’s chairman and president of the SCAN Foundation in California. He sees the seeds of a potential compromise embedded in the commission’s report. The two primary financing options considered by the commission share “some commonalities,” he said, including agreement on the need for strong public programs and a role for the private sector.
“If you look carefully at these two perspectives, you can begin to see a way forward.”
As health care costs continue to increase, it is extremely important for consumers to scrutinize the charges they receive. Medical bills are difficult to understand. In fact, 77% of Americans don’t understand health insurance or medical billing. It pays to have a advocate review your bills and negotiate with medical providers on your behalf. Their experience, available data resources and relationship with providers will save you time and money. Below are 10 ways you can save on healthcare costs.
By Margarett Burnette, Bankrate.com
As health care consumers endure higher deductibles and reduced insurance benefits, it is becoming more important to understand and even negotiate prices before receiving medical treatment.
Dr. Kathryn Stewart, medical director of care management at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, believes that patients can and should be more proactive about seeking the best prices for their services.
“Hospital costs are probably 40 (percent) to 50 percent of what their (list price) charges are,” she says. But when it comes to billing, “most hospitals are happy to break even or have a little bit of profit.”
This means there is plenty of room to negotiate and reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.
Shop for hospital care as you would any other consumer service, but with more effort since costs can run really high. You can save yourself a bundle using these strategies.
10 ways to reduce your medical bills
1. Ask your doctor to be your ally
If you’re shopping around for medical services, you probably have a primary physician who directed you to seek the service in the first place. “You have to get diagnosed by somebody,” says Stewart. “So let that person be your advocate.”
She advises patients to ask their doctors where the best hospitals are for the recommended procedures, which centers will work with patients to lower out-of-pocket costs, and to even ask for help communicating with that facility’s finance department.
“If the hospital where a physician admits is approached by that physician on behalf of the patient, I think (the patient) might get somewhere with the hospital. Let’s say I have a patient in my practice who has one of these really high-deductible (insurance) plans, and they need to have a hysterectomy. (I could) approach the finance department and say ‘I’ve got this patient, but they don’t have (enough) insurance and they can’t afford to pay full price, but they can afford to pay something. Can you work with them?'”
2. Compare costs by using the CPT code
Though your doctor might be willing to initiate a conversation with the hospital finance department, you can still expect to have several conversations with them on your own. Before calling, make sure you have the “current procedural terminology,” or CPT, code for the procedure you are seeking.
“CPT is the industry term for the ‘billing code.’ It’s a five-digit number that is used to bill the procedure,” says Jane Cooper, president and CEO of Patient Care, a health advocacy company based in Milwaukee. Cooper says that your physician or physician’s office can provide you with the code, and the number is the same across hospitals. With this code, you can call multiple medical centers to compare prices for the same procedure.
The fragmented health care market in the United States has driven up costs, putting deep economic strains on consumers and the country. The Affordable Care Act promises to help Americans become insured and obtain access to the system. What about reducing health care cost? Reducing the cost of care has been more elusive. In the mean time consumers need to find trusted partners to reduce medical bills.
Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, NY Times
Deirdre Yapalater’s recent colonoscopy at a surgical center near her home here on Long Island went smoothly: she was whisked from pre-op to an operating room where a gastroenterologist, assisted by an anesthesiologist and a nurse, performed the routine cancer screening procedure in less than an hour. The test, which found nothing worrisome, racked up what is likely her most expensive medical bill of the year: $6,385. That is fairly typical: in Keene, N.H., Matt Meyer’s colonoscopy was billed at $7,563.56. Maggie Christ of Chappaqua, N.Y., received $9,142.84 in bills for the procedure. In Durham, N.C., the charges for Curtiss Devereux came to $19,438, which included a polyp removal. While their insurers negotiated down the price, the final tab for each test was more than $3,500. “Could that be right?” said Ms. Yapalater, stunned by charges on the statement on her dining room table. Although her insurer covered the procedure and she paid nothing, her health care costs still bite: Her premium payments jumped 10 percent last year, and rising co-payments and deductibles are straining the finances of her middle-class family, with its mission-style house in the suburbs and two S.U.V.’s parked outside. “You keep thinking it’s free,” she said. “We call it free, but of course it’s not.”
In many other developed countries, a basic colonoscopy costs just a few hundred dollars and certainly well under $1,000. That chasm in price helps explain why the United States is far and away the world leader in medical spending, even though numerous studies have concluded that Americans do not get better care. Whether directly from their wallets or through insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system. They are typically prescribed more expensive procedures and tests than people in other countries, no matter if those nations operate a private or national health system. A list of drug, scan and procedure prices compiled by the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurers, found that the United States came out the most costly in all 21 categories — and often by a huge margin.
Americans pay, on average, about four times as much for a hip replacement as patients in Switzerland or France and more than three times as much for a Caesarean section as those in New Zealand or Britain. The average price for Nasonex, a common nasal spray for allergies, is $108 in the United States compared with $21 in Spain. The costs of hospital stays here are about triple those in other developed countries, even though they last no longer, according to a recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies health policy.
While the United States medical system is famous for drugs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and heroic care at the end of life, it turns out that a more significant factor in the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health care bill may not be the use of extraordinary services, but the high price tag of ordinary ones. “The U.S. just pays providers of health care much more for everything,” said Tom Sackville, chief executive of the health plans federation and a former British health minister.
Colonoscopies offer a compelling case study. They are the most expensive screening test that healthy Americans routinely undergo — and often cost more than childbirth or an appendectomy in most other developed countries. Their numbers have increased manyfold over the last 15 years, with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that more than 10 million people get them each year, adding up to more than $10 billion in annual costs. Largely an office procedure when widespread screening was first recommended, colonoscopies have moved into surgery centers — which were created as a step down from costly hospital care but are now often a lucrative step up from doctors’ examining rooms — where they are billed like a quasi operation. They are often prescribed and performed more frequently than medical guidelines recommend.
The high price paid for colonoscopies mostly results not from top-notch patient care, according to interviews with health care experts and economists, but from business plans seeking to maximize revenue; haggling between hospitals and insurers that have no relation to the actual costs of performing the procedure; and lobbying, marketing and turf battles among specialists that increase patient fees.
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.