Surviving Your Hospital Bills: 9 Secrets To Saving Big $$

Written by Joanna Morrow

Joanna Morrow, Principal and Founder of Employer Benefits & Advice, is an employer consultant and advocate who has worked in the employee benefits industry for over two decades. She works diligently to help employers overcome obstacles in their business by sharing her expertise in Human Resources, Benefits & Compensation, Process Mapping, Risk Management and ERISA/DOL/IRS compliance. She is a licensed life and health insurance professional in the State of Arizona and is an active member of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU).

Surviving Your Hospital Bills: 9 Secrets To Saving Big $$

Imagine you’re working away at your desk when you receive a call from a friend asking you to drop everything and go on vacation with him. He promises that you really need this and will feel like a new person upon returning. Problem is, when you try to nail him down as to what this trip is going to cost he tells you it’s not an all-inclusive resort. Everything is à la carte and could cost upward of $25,000. He goes on to share that the highlight of the trip will be a daily sponge bath and a choice of Jell-O or ice cream to go with it.

For many of us, going into the hospital whether planned or not, essentially plays out the same way. It can be a very expensive, unplanned excursion. In a traumatic situation people often panic and think “I’ll worry about the bills later”. After years of helping clients navigate hospital billing nightmares I want to share this checklist of 9 little-known secrets that can save you a lot of money and heartache in the event you ever find yourself in the hospital.

9 Secrets to Saving Big $$

The best way to save on healthcare in America is to stay out of the hospital. Anything a hospital touches immediately doubles or triples the cost. However if you’re sitting at your desk and suffer a heart attack, or driving home from work and involved in a head on collision, you’re going to be transported to a hospital. Hospitals are a billing machine and once you are in “the machine” it’s important you appoint someone in the family to be your financial advocate. His/her job is to protect your financial well-being while doctors address your physical well-being. Here’s a checklist of items to consider:

Know Where You’re Going

If you go to a smaller hospital and it has to transfer you to a different medical center, demand that it ship you to the closest one that can handle your care and preferably, one that is contracted with your insurance carrier. If you need to be transferred from one location to another, the transporting party will typically send you to a hospital they’re affiliated with. Unfortunately, even if a patient is bleeding to death or having a heart attack the transporting hospital is motivated to send you to the affiliated facility rather than the closest hospital. So speak up!

Determine the Non-Contracted Providers

Even if you’re careful to choose a hospital and a surgeon that are in network, there’s no guarantee that everyone involved in your care at the hospital is also in network. The radiologist, anesthesiologist, pathologist, and even the assistant surgeon often don’t contract with any insurance company.

It’s important to ask and phrase the question, “Can you please confirm if the _________________________ (radiologist/pathologist/anesthesiologist) are CONTRACTED with my insurance company.” If you are told they’re not, explain that your insurance company only reimburses at the contracted rate and you need confirmation that amount will be accepted as payment in full. Ask for the full name and position of the person you spoke with.

Ask If You’re Being Admitted

It’s possible to stay overnight in hospital without ever being formally “admitted.” Sometimes the hospital records that you are there “under observation.” This is important because certain services may not be covered by your plan until you’re formally admitted, so ensure you know your status at all times. It will help when you’re trying to make sense of your bills.

Learn the Factors Padding Your Bill

In an emergency or complex surgical situation, physicians will often call in specialists to assist. If those specialists poke their head in your room every day to say good morning and ask how you’re feeling, know that your bill is being padded. And padded. Simply ask whether those daily visits are necessary.

Similarly, it’s estimated that 15-30% of tests, medications, and procedures conducted in a hospital setting are unnecessary. This is due in part because of patient demand and partly to avoid malpractice suits. Therefore, when your healthcare provider orders a test, ask why, what the objective is, and how your care is impacted if you don’t have it.

Bring Your Own Meds

It’s a lot cheaper if your providers don’t have to use the hospital pharmacy to fill prescriptions you are already taking upon admission. So if possible bring your own medicines from home. In most cases it’s allowed provided the hospital pharmacy is able to verify your pills are what the bottle says they are. Just ask your doctor to write the order directing the pharmacy to do that.

In addition bring a clear, printed list of exactly what medications you take at home and when you take them. Don’t just say “daily”. It helps physicians to know exactly when you take them.

Pay Attention

Ask your nurses to do a “bedside shift change.” This is when they share information in your presence instead of at the nurses’ station. You are the best person to correct any errors. The only way to ensure better communication amongst the various people involved in your care is to ensure you or a family member is part of the conversation.

Write It Down

It’s easy to get confused and disoriented in the hospital, particularly if your medical event has been traumatic such as in the case of heart attack or head injury. However, once the bills start rolling in it can become even more confusing and overwhelming unless you have a record of who saw you and when. So keep a notebook while in hospital. If you’re not able to, have a friend or family member help you.

Write down your questions, log who’s coming into your room, and track conversations with different doctors. Ask for the names of any non-contracted providers so you can identify them when reviewing bills. For example, the doctor you saw in the ER might have been “Dr. Smith” but Dr. Smith might work for the ER physician group that contracts its services to the hospital. The corporate name of that ER physician group is what will appear on your bill such as “Emergency Medical Experts”.

Same goes for radiologists, pathologists, and anesthesiologists. Usually they are non-contracted providers working for corporate entities that contract services to the hospital. Ask for the names of those corporate entities and record it in your log. Weeks later when you receive a bill from “Radiology Services of Arizona” for example you will be able to refer to your notes and match up the provider with your bill.

Don’t Leave Without It

Once you leave “the machine”, obtaining copies of labs, tests, scans and other information can be a daunting task. I can’t stress enough the importance of obtaining your records BEFORE leaving the hospital.

Request copies of all labs, tests, and scans before you leave the hospital, along with your discharge summary and operative reports if you had surgery. Leaving the hospital with this information in hand will make your life a lot easier in the days and weeks to follow when the bills start arriving.

Review Your Bill, Then Review It Again

I would estimate that nearly eight out of ten hospital bills we see in my office contain an error, so check your bill carefully. You may identify a drug you didn’t take. Or you know that you discontinued a treatment on Tuesday, but you were charged for Wednesday.

In my experience, by practicing these tips hospital inpatients can save themselves between 35% – 50% on bills. If you are wrestling with hospital charges and need guidance, call me at 602-903-4047. I am happy to listen and offer up advice.