In which our Heroine speaks to Kathy the Insurance Lady.
Today I sat amidst a sea of indecipherable papers detailing my numerous medical expenses and who should be paying what, where, and when. I was so confused. Luckily, I know someone who works in a doctor’s office. With her reliable advice, I cleared up my issues—which, sadly, were mostly of my own error. Here is a small and probably incomplete list of the things I have learned today about medical billing:
1. Always speak to the secretaries and insurance handlers with the utmost respect, patience, and humility. Laugh at their jokes. Be willing to let them ramble on and on about things you actually do already understand in the hope that the things you don’t know will surface somewhere in there too. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
2. The secretaries in your Doctor’s office can be your ally if you let them. It would be a mistake to either disregard them, or to regard them as the money-seeking enemy. They probably get paid by the hour, not specifically by what you do or don’t pay on that day.
3. It is okay to pay $20 or so into a bill that you don’t think is your responsibility in order to keep it from going to the collection agency. If it goes there, you will probably have them calling you and sending you mail for the rest of your life—and it will bring down your credit score. If the insurance company comes through, you will be reimbursed the $20, so no loss.
4. Apparently Alaska plays by its own rules when it comes to medical billing. You may catch yourself thinking for a moment that this is just an easy excuse for the insurance people to get around clearly explaining their fiscal responsibilities—but let’s face it—they’re probably right.
5. Get a notebook to document all medical correspondence. It is important to write down the date and the name of the person you spoke with. Take notes on everything that is said. This is also useful for taking notes when in hospital or visiting the doctor, and you won’t feel as stupid later.
6. Hospitals can’t charge you money until you have been officially discharged. Therefore, the dates on your bills may be somewhat confusing. This may lead you to think that the problem bill shouldn’t be included in your out-of-pocket maximum when it actually should.
7. Don’t forget to look for the very unapparent watermark “COPY” across your medical mail. You may not have to do anything at all with the thing. Instead, it may just be a notice that something unfathomable happened between your hospital and your insurance company—a transaction that has your name on it, but for which you curiously have no responsibility.
8. Try not to have brain surgery. It just complicates things.