Top 5 ways to cut your medical bills - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Top 5 ways to cut your medical bills

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Posted by Rachel Leigh email

(WFLX) - At age 10, Michelle Davis is so healthy, she had never missed a day of fourth grade.

That was until February when she developed a strange rash on her stomach. "We've had rashes before. No big deal," said her father, Scott Davis.

Michelle described, "I had these bumps on my skin that were really high, and then my fingers started blowing up."

At the time, Scott had lost his job, and the family had no health insurance, so the Davis family put off taking Michelle to the emergency room as long as they could. "And within a matter of hours, it had spread from head to toe." 

"My lips were getting really big, and my tongue started getting big, too," said Michelle.

Her father recalled, "She said, 'It got my tongue.' At that point, I knew I couldn't keep her out of the emergency room any longer."

At the hospital, staffers gave Michelle medication to stop the allergic reaction, and then hooked her up to a monitor to make sure she was stable. "We stayed in the room for about three or four hours while she was on the heart monitor, and then the aide came back in and said, 'Okay, you're good to go.'"

Then, came the real pain: Their bill was $1,039.

Stunned, Scott called Cindy Holtzman, a medical billing advocate. "It's scary; it's overwhelming, and it's full of surprises."

Holtzman was right. Just as Scott has absorbed the shock of the first bill, he got another. "This is for the ER doctor... $514."

Holtzman says about 90 percent of medical bills have mistakes on them that could cost you. One client was charged twice for an ER visit. "For the same day, same time, same code."

Another was billed more than $4,000 for 41 different IV bags: "I know this woman only had one when she went to the ER. She did not go with 40 other people."

Holtzman's advice is ask for an itemized bill. "They will only give you a summary. You need it itemized, so you can see exactly what you're being charged for and what you should pay."

If your bill seems out of whack, she says, call the hospital's auditing department and ask them to research it. "And if you don't understand it, have them explain, 'What is this charge?' And always, always talk to a supervisor."

Scott started working the phones, calling the billing company, the hospital, the ER. "I found that the angrier I got with them, the less inclined they were to help me. So if I had any advice to give people, I would say, 'Be very nice.'"

When Scott explained to the hospital Michelle had no insurance, it offered to cut the bill by 40 percent if he'd pay it off in within a year.

Then, he tackled the second bill from the emergency physician. "Will you give me 40 percent if I pay now? And, he said, 'If you pay now, I'll give it to you.' It was that easy. I just found the right person."

If your bills are overly complicated, Holtzman, says you might want to hire a medical billing advocate to help you break them down.

But whatever you do, she says, don't ignore them. "In my experience, most people put them away and don't want to see them, and then they end up in collections which is terrible because there is no room to negotiate."

The Davis family never found out what cause Michelle's allergic reaction. She's ok now, and Scott has a new job with benefits.

Along the way, he says, he learned a few lessons. "You should at least ask. If you don't ask, you won't get anything."

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