Paying Medical Bills: Why Is It Sometimes So Difficult?
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Whenever I sit down to work, it’s “business as usual” for me to start by paying whatever medical bills have been piling up on my desk. We get a lot of medical bills, primarily associated with my rheumatoid arthritis – so many that I’d say at least a quarter of my family’s income goes towards this purpose. Today, for a change, the bill I need to pay is for my husband. He recently had surgery, and sitting on my desk is the bill from his anesthesiologist.

A need for more efficient billing

For starters, this current bill is only one of maybe five or six different bills we have already received for the same procedure. When you get a bunch of different bills from different organizations for the same procedure, all arriving at different times with different formats and wording, it makes it next to impossible for patients to make sure they are being billed correctly. Did my insurance actually cover what it was supposed to cover? Were we billed for the same thing by two different places? Are there any errors on this bill? Who knows! While I certainly understand and appreciate that many different doctors and organizations had to come together to make my husband’s surgery happen, it really seems like there should be a more efficient billing procedure to make this process easier for patients to understand and take care of – but I suppose that’s a different problem for another time.

For today, I just want to share how difficult it was for me to pay a single bill. For starters, the bill said, or rather shouted in all caps, “IF PAYING BY CREDIT CARD, PLEASE GO TO OUR WEBSITE.” No problem! I prefer to pay online anyways because it is usually quicker and easier (though it is a bit frustrating to have to create so many different accounts on so many different websites for this purpose). So I carefully type the website printed on the bill into my browser, which was approximately: “https://payments.nameofthepractice.com.”

Server not found. I check to make sure I typed it correctly. I did. I type it carefully again. The website simply doesn’t exist. So I do some Googling and find my way to the practice’s website, and from there search down the “payments” tabs. (The correct web address turns out to be: “https://nameofthepractice.com/payments/”). But guess what greets me when I finally find the correct webpage? We are sorry, but we are not able to accept on-line payments at this time. For payment help please call.

Fine. I pick up my phone and I call the number listed. I listen to a long recording and choose an option – which only takes me to another long recording of options. In the second list, there isn’t an option for “pay bill” so I finally say “procedure” because that’s what the recording instructed patients to say. But the recording doesn’t understand me, so it starts repeating the options again. When the recording says it doesn’t understand me the second time, I try pressing the “0” key to see if I can get connected to a human.

The first person finds out I want to pay a bill, and transfers me to a second person. The second person asks for my account number and the patient’s name and date of birth, which I provide, and then transfers me to a third person. The third person, of course, makes me repeat all the same information over again (so what was the point of the second person asking for it?)

The third representative also tries to hang up on me, claiming she can’t hear me very well, but after all the trouble I experienced even getting connected to someone who can theoretically help me I loudly ask her not to. I’m not sure what to do about the connection problem, because I’m calling from my brand new iPhone7 while sitting at the same desk where I make literally all of my phone calls, not to mention my cell phone is the only phone I have. So I apologize for the connection and request, as politely as possible, that she try to take down my payment information anyways. She’s grumpy and a little bit rude, but eventually I’m able to give her my HSA card information. Then she says she’ll “try to process the payment with the information given” and ends the call. So, after at least twenty minutes of effort, I don’t even know if the bill was actually paid at all!!

Here’s the thing: I do understand that not every system works the way it is supposed to all the time. I know that paying bills can sometimes be a hassle. This particular practice was obviously having an issue with their online payment program. Maybe the representative really couldn’t hear me. And I know that it certainly isn’t her personal fault that it was such a pain to pay this bill (assuming I actually managed to pay it at all!)

But, unfortunately, this is not an isolated event. As someone living with a chronic illness, I pay medical bills all the time and this sort of thing happens regularly. And the amount of time I’m forced to spend on issues like this really ads up. Sometimes it feels like just managing medical bills is a full time job – which doesn’t take into account the time and effort I spend going to doctor’s appointments, dealing with the pharmacy, taking my medications, participating in therapies to reduce pain, and making sure I get enough rest to stay healthy. Not to mention that all of the above has to happen before I can do any actual work for my actual job so I can earn the money I need to pay the medical bills in the first place!

Maybe this is wishful thinking, bit I feel there really must be a way to make this process more simple and streamlined for patients – especially those living with chronic illnesses who deal with a million medical bills and have so much on their plates already. And, short of that, will someone please get me one of Hermione’s time turners so I can have a remote chance of actually getting everything done?

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