Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Crawl Off That Slab and Call Blue Cross

Even those of us with relatively good insurance can be stunned by medical bills. My daughter had an interesting experience last summer. She was feeling achy one evening and I took her to an urgent care. Fifty bucks. The urgent care said they had to rule out meningitis and sent us to the ER. One hundred and fifty bucks.

At the ER, blood tests were negative. They went and did a spinal tap. This caused my daughter extreme pain and we returned to the ER, from which they admitted her. Three hundred bucks. Oddly, the only thing that was wrong with her, five hundred dollars later (not to mention what the insurance paid, which was way more), was that she suffered side effects from the treatment.

So I was a little surprised to get a bill from the hospital for $848.17. That took our adventure to over one thousand dollars out of pocket, all for checking out my kid, who had a virus. And yes, I understand they had to check, and it's certainly better being safe than sorry. So what was the problem?

Evidently, you are supposed to call Blue Cross when you are admitted to the hospital. They give you a 48-hour window to do this, which I guess is enough time to make a call. I gotta say, though, I've had this insurance for over thirty years and I've never made any such call, not for me, and not for anyone in my family. Well, Blue Cross has had enough of me and my shenanigans. I discovered this after waiting twenty-five minutes to speak to someone at the hospital billing department, which played the most awful piano music I've ever heard, over and over, along with messages about how important my call was to them. Of course, if it were really important, you'd think they'd answer it.

The woman told me that Blue Cross had penalized me for failing to call. Man, $548.17 for not thinking of the insurance company while my daughter was in pain. I am clearly a horrible human being. To their credit, Empire answered quickly. When I told them I had no idea I had to call them, the guy said, "It's right there on your card." But I wasn't looking at the card because I was too busy rushing my kid to the ER. He waived the charge.

I called back the hospital and listened to that awful piano tape for another 30 minutes or so. I paid my bill, and the woman gave me a ten percent discount for paying promptly. So it was not so bad.

I wonder, though, what about people with more dire issues? Are they expected to waken from their comas and let Blue Cross know they're gonna be in Intensive Care for a while? Should they crawl out of traction to get their fingers around that receiver? Should they wake from feverish delusions, fish their wallets out of the plastic bags in which they put their belongings, read the little numbers and then dial?

I found myself telling people more than once, "Well, we didn't go to the hospital just for fun." I wonder if that's what they think. What on earth is this phone call designed to do? Are the folks from Blue Cross gonna check whether you're just taking it easy and hanging around in a thin robe so you can freeze to death in some icy hospital? Are they gonna tell people on the spot that their telephone experts have determined that the doctors at the hospital are wrong and you should just go home?

Or is it absolutely vital to have yet one more layer of redundant bureaucracy in our already convoluted and incomprehensible health care system?
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