Health-care costs will double by 2008 if they keep rising at double-digit rates. People who do not have government insurance: Do what you can to defend yourself.
The federal General Accounting Office says medical errors cost patients about $10 billion annually. Credit counseling giant Equifax audited more than 4,000 bills and found errors in over 90 percent of them: double billing, canceled tests, bills for wait time, drugs that weren't given. Consumers can catch — or prevent — such errors.
Before you go to the hospital:
1. Comparison shop, like you would for any product. Find out who charges what.
2. The state Health Care Authority plans to have hospital prices, charity care policies and other information on its Web site next year, so you can compare. Meanwhile, read up to equip yourself to spot and ward off hospital billing errors. You may want to start with:
After you go to the hospital:
Remember: Errors on hospital bills are often accidental. Hospitals may handle thousands of bills per day. A keystroke error can inject a mistake worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars into your bill. People who type in the bills must decipher the doctor's handwriting.
Remember: Compare your itemized bill to your hospital record. Rules of thumb: If it's not in the medical record or a physician didn't order it, it shouldn't be on the bill.
Remember: The state of West Virginia does not set or control the prices of individual items on hospital bills. Hospitals set the prices of individual items. The state Health Care Authority limits only the average of all bills a hospital sends out during a year.
1. In the hospital, keep a running diary, if you can. If you have a friend with you, they can do this. Include dates and times, doctor visits, services, tests, drugs, personal items. Note anything that is canceled: tests, drugs, whatever. Note the time you go into surgery and the time you come out.
2. Do not pay in full when you're discharged, no matter how the hospital encourages you to do so. Some hospital consultants advise hospitals to try to get consumers to do so. Give yourself time to examine the bill.
3. Ask for an itemized bill. The first bill that comes to you may not be itemized. It may say something like "Room & Board — Semi-Prvt $1,149, Hospital Incidentals $18,219.72." You want to know what those incidentals are.
4. If your itemized bill does not include basic information, ask for an expanded bill. You should get:
5. Put all communication in writing. Keep copies of letters, e-mails, phone records, etc. Send notes summarizing conversations. If the hospital threatens to refer the disputed part of the bill to a credit bureau, you can then prove you are disputing it. (See legal advice below.)
6. Review your bill: