Twenty years ago today, my first husband died at the age of 55, after an almost lifelong struggle with Crohn’s Disease.
During our more than 18 years of marriage, hospital stays and emergency surgeries were almost annual events.
In 1991, we traveled to England (his very first trip on an airplane). In the wee hours one morning, he had an episode. The B&B called NHS emergency services and a doctor arrived at around 4 a.m. Later that morning, my husband was admitted to a private hospital in Rochdale, Lancs., where he was further treated for two days. When he was discharged, he was provided all the prescription medication needed and his medical file was faxed to his regular internist here in the states. Total cost was under $2,000, which was completely covered under our trip insurance. The cost here back in Illinois would have easily been at least ten times that amount.
In 1993, he had what would be his final surgery. It resulted in a blood clot in leg. The clot broke lose, traveled to his lungs, and that was that.
Early on, we had excellent insurance but then along came the PPOs and HMOs and all the other “new, efficient, cost-effective” insurance plans.
And that’s where the nightmares begin.
Trying to sort through incomprehensible medical coding and billing. Who are all these people? What are all these different supplies?
The last surgery was the final straw for my mild mannered self. There were TWO bills for TWO different surgeries on TWO subsequent days with TWO different surgeons. I called shenanigans and called it loudly.
It got sorted.
Fast forward about four years. I’m relocated to Kentucky and a threatening letter shows up in my mailbox from a lawyer in Chicago. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was a deadbeat, that I owed tens of thousands of dollars to a doctor I’d never heard of, and if I did not pay up right now, well, I was doomed to all sorts of immediate legal hell.
Hrumpf, said I, and immediately dashed off a most sternly worded two-page, single-spaced missive that pretty much boiled down to: “Bring. It. On.”
I never heard from them again.
Sadly, my experience is not uncommon.
I’ll let the New York Times take it from here:
Before his three-hour neck surgery for herniated disks in December, Peter Drier, 37, signed a pile of consent forms. A bank technology manager who had researched his insurance coverage, Mr. Drier was prepared when the bills started arriving: $56,000 from Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, $4,300 from the anesthesiologist and even $133,000 from his orthopedist, who he knew would accept a fraction of that fee.
He was blindsided, though, by a bill of about $117,000 from an “assistant surgeon,” a Queens-based neurosurgeon whom Mr. Drier did not recall meeting.
“I thought I understood the risks,” Mr. Drier, who lives in New York City, said later. “But this was just so wrong — I had no choice and no negotiating power.”
And take the time to read through the comments at the link.
Be an informed consumer, now more than ever.
(h/t to Sergey)