Looking for a sucker

If your financial situation is reasonably secure, it’s a good time to find bargains on almost everything. Fancy stores are offering discounts, contractors and tradesmen are suddenly returning your calls quickly, and it’s even become easier to get an appointment with the doctor or dentist of your choice.

And yet it’s also a time of desperation and you have to make sure not to get taken advantage of. I’ve received a few questionable bills myself lately. For example the guy who mows my lawn showed up in mid-December (between snowfalls) and sent a bill for that! He usually stops by October.
This problem is starting to manifest itself in a big way in health care. Fewer patients are showing up to doctors’ offices and hospitals, high-profit elective procedures are down, and people are losing their insurance. Over time, hospitals and physicians fear a shift toward more low-margin Medicaid business and bad accounts. Big insurance companies do a reasonable job of keeping fees in check.

So who’s left to make up for lost revenue? The underinsured or uninsured patient with the means to pay. There’s a temptation on the part of some providers to overtreat and overbill such patients. Others may hold on to a patient they should refer to a specialist. If you are one of these patients it’s time to be extra skeptical for your own safety and for the health of your wallet.

I recently had a consultation with a specialist that felt very much like a sales pitch, complete with an attempt to rush me into a self-pay procedure that I probably didn’t need. I dropped that specialist and went to someone else, who’s taken a less aggressive (but still expensive) approach. I’m a well-informed medical consumer with an extensive network of advisors I trust, and it’s still hard to figure out what’s going on.

February 11, 2009

2 thoughts on “Looking for a sucker”

  1. It is encouraging to see someone take a common-sense approach to their health care. Just like exercise and eating right, knowing your treatment options is a powerful way to make the best decision for yourself and therefore get the most out of life.

  2. Uninsured and underinsured people in California have new protections from being overcharged by hospitals, thanks to the Hospital Fair Pricing Act of 2006. Many CA hospitals aren’t informing patients about their rights under the Act so, if you are uninsured or underinsured and have a hospital bill that seems unreasonably high, contact Health Access (jessicar@health-access.org) or your local Health Consumer Center (http://healthconsumer.org/index.php?id=centers) for assistance.

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