Getting Lost in the Labyrinth of Medical Bills

June 22, 2012

New York Times

Ask Jean Poole, a medical billing advocate, about her work helping people navigate the bewildering world of medical bills and insurance claims, and the stories pour out. There’s the client who was billed almost $11,000 for an 11-minute hand surgery.  The cancer patient who was charged $9,550.40 for a round of chemotherapy he never received.

And then, there’s the tale of the woman who came to Ms. Poole with a large rolling suitcase stuffed with bills for her 68-year-old husband, who had gone to the emergency room after he fell getting out of bed.  The hospital’s doctors discovered a series of problems — kidney failure, blood and urinary tract infections, and a blood clot. Ultimately, he ended up staying in the hospital for two months and being transferred to a nursing home for rehabilitation.

Though the couple had two insurance policies — one through Medicare and a secondary policy at Blue Cross Blue Shield — they still received more than $25,000 in medical bills and another $65,000 from the nursing home. And some of them threatened collections if they weren’t paid within days.

“Most people have a false sense of security if they have two insurances like this,” said Ms. Poole, who is based in Virginia. “Many of the bills were confusing and she was very concerned there were errors and overcharges.”

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