15 Minutes Saved Me $200 on My Medical Bills

Did you know that chronic illness is a huge financial burden to those who live with it?
Everybody knows that.
Well, did you know that not every bill you receive has to be paid without question?

Here's a quick story about how I fought a medical supply bill and won, with just 15 minutes of phone time. I've written about the challenges of dealing with insurance companies and spoken with media outlets about navigating the ins and outs of the healthcare system, but today I'm going to share a real-life example of how this works in practice.

Last week, I received an email from a medical supply company I've ordered from in the past about their calculation that I would be ready to order a new shipment. I logged into my account to see what the email was referring to, and when I arrived at my account page, I was surprised to see a bill for $200 worth of pump supplies, with a date of service from last fall and an August 2016 statement date. I looked up the statement history on my card, as I was confident I had already paid for this supply charge at time of service. My statement history reflected this as truth. I knew I was going to have to call and find out what the deal was with this bill and why the supply company thought I still owed them. 

When I was new to diabetes and cascading piles of bills, I would have panicked and paid this in full, on the spot. Rookie mistake! I can't even tell you how many thousands of dollars I paid in various medical bills at the beginning of my diagnosis, unaware of my rights and ability to fight charges for a myriad of reasons. No more. I knew this company would send a paper bill and I would address the issue when it arrived in my hands. 

Yesterday afternoon, I received the paper bill I was now anticipating for that $200 charge. I double-checked the statement history that reflected this charge as paid months and months ago, and prepared to call today, when their Midwest office would be open again. Armed with the fresh paper bill and my card statement history, I called the customer service number, selected "5" for questions about billing, and waited for someone to pick up my call on the other end. I was amazed when I'd only been waiting about 10 minutes (in comparison to the hours-yes, HOURS- I've waited on-hold to resolve similar issues in the past) before a customer service agent appeared on the line. She asked my name, verified my birthdate, and then I told her my reason for calling.

She was pleasant, I was pleasant. So far, things were going well. I always treat the customer service representatives with respect when I call for any reason, but especially when calling to dispute a charge. The worker on the other end of the line didn't write the bill; they don't make the rules, and they certainly didn't set out to ruin my day, so I'm not going to start out trying to ruin theirs either. I like to imagine we have a mutual understanding that we should treat each other with kindness and respect. This imaginary agreement helps me handle these frustrating issues with calm and gratitude (and as they say, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar--this situation is no exception). 

The rep looked up the bill I was referencing, then gave an explanation as to what the bill was for and why I owed the amount. In a friendly tone, I informed her that I had already paid that charge and that I had bank documents that supported my claim. She was thoughtful for a second, and then asked if I would hold while she pulled up the EOB (explanation of benefits) for the charge. When she came back on the line, she explained again the charge, but then interrupted herself when she realized she saw, on her end, the paper trail that supported my claim that I had already paid the bill months ago. She apologized for their mistake and confirmed that she would remove the bill from my account.

WOAH. If I hadn't taken the time to recall my bank charges and call the supply company to dispute the charge on my account, I would have sent them $200 of my hard-earned money that I did not actually owe. No one would have double-checked the record to realize that I had double-paid. It is a frustrating system, but it is the system in place, so I just do my best to work within it. I insist upon being an informed patient, keeping countless pieces of paper billing to track expenses, and knowing what my health insurance policy covers (and at what percentage) so I can make calls like this one when the situation demands it. 

I verbally confirmed with the rep what she had said and got her name so I could call back if I needed to speak with her on this claim again. I wrote down the date of our conversation and the rep's name on my paper bill to keep for my own records. I thanked her for her time and assistance and ended the call. All in just 15 minutes. 

What a great exchange! At this point, it doesn't take much for me to get excited (just a polite and efficient customer service rep or due diligence by said rep), but I try to appreciate when things go smoothly. In this case, I was able to work with a polite and efficient customer service rep, who did her due diligence in assisting me with verifying the billing (and removing the bill when she realized it was an error), resulting in me saving that money that I might have easily paid to the supply company without questioning at all. 

If you're a patient, you incur medical bills. It's what you do. If you want to save $200 (more or less) on your healthcare costs, take the time to read your bills before paying, and keep your own records to back up your disputed charges. Another way to save money, and your sanity, while navigating your/your loved one's health condition. That's a win-win.