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Out-of-network Medical Costs Affect Everyone

October 5, 2013 in health care costs, Health Insurance, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Debt, Member Stories

According to a survey this year by America’s Health Insurance Plans, 12% of all medical claims received by insurance carriers were out-of-network in 2011. That translates into huge out-of-pocket costs for American consumers, and sometimes uncapped costs. Out-of-network charges can be nearly 100 times (100 times!!) the rate that Medicare allows (typically you will be no more than 2 or 3 times the Medicare rate with insurance).

Don’t think any of that applies to you because you have good insurance? Think again.

Excessive out-of-network fees are typically not covered by your insurance carrier to the full extent, and are often not applied to your deductible. This means you could not only be on the hook for large fees for some services, but those amounts could be uncapped, the equivalent of being uninsured, even while having a very good insurance plan. New Obamacare plans don’t solve this, as they are not required to cap out-of-network charges. And almost all carriers are shrinking their networks further for new exchange plans. How did this slip through the Affordable Care Act?

Health insurance carriers negotiate rates with a number of physicians and hospitals to get lower rates with its plan holders. These providers and facilities form a health plan’s “network”. When patients go to providers “in-network”, the insurance carrier pays significantly less. It is reasonable then that a plan might want to discourage you from going with a provider not in that network. It is also reasonable for a carrier to remove all but the lowest-cost providers from its network over time. The ACA also wants to keep people away from the highest-priced providers, in an effort to reduce healthcare costs overall.

The trouble is, sometimes going out-of-network is the best or only way to ensure critical healthcare. Specialists and key facilities in various parts of the country may not have a relationship with your carrier. There are also many cases when you end up receiving services from an out-of-network provider because of the nature of integrated care by professionals from a number of different companies. For example, even though you know your physician and hospital are in-network, you may not think to ask if the anesthesiologist is.

The 12% figure will surely rise under the ACA. More individuals will find that their preferred doctor is no longer in their plan’s network. Employers are beginning to cut spouses and children from plans, which will add to the confusion about which doctor you should be going to for which family member.

Some of the largest carriers like UnitedHealthcare and Aetna will only cover out-of-network fees up to what they consider a “fair” amount, and then you have to pay the rest yourself, even if you’ve already met your deductible. Good luck finding out what the cost will be beforehand. Doctors and nurses don’t know, and many facilities are known to not provide that information even if you call their billing department.

For more information on out-of-network services and payment, see FairHealth’s website. You can also see the websites of UnitedHealthcare and Aetna on how they deal with out-of-network costs.

 

Randy Cox
Founder & CEO of Pricing Healthcare

Are Transparent Hospital and Medical Bills on the Rise?

December 3, 2012 in health care costs, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Care

News from an Ohio media news site indicates that “hospitals around the country” are trying to make their medical bills easier to read, citing the Healthcare Financial Management Association and a case study for the Cleveland Clinic, one site that has renovated the look of its paper bills.

Most of the changes focus on the idea that traditional bills just have too many lines and lack clarity about who has current responsibility for debt amounts vs. who has already paid. To this end, photos of new billing structures show that complicated sets of line items can be replaced with headings like “You Paid X on X Date” and “Insurance Company Paid X Amount.”

Changing the format for medical bills can help both you and your provider. Because when you can read a bill effectively at a glance, you are more likely to respond immediately to what you receive in the mail. Bills that are too cryptic often just end up getting thrown in the trash or added to the pile. This means the provider receives delayed payment or non-payment and you risk credit damage.

What These Medical Bill Improvements Don’t Address

Although it can be really helpful to make bills more readable, this still doesn’t address some of the most common challenges we encounter. Read the rest of this entry →

How to Protect Yourself from Higher Than Expected Medical Bills

September 28, 2012 in health care costs, Health Insurance, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Care

If you are insured and visit your local emergency room at a hospital network in your area of residence, you expect to pay the stated co-pay that shows on your insurance card, right? This is, in some senses, a reasonable expectation, but it’s not always what happens. News media outlets around the country have aggressively broadcast many cases where huge out-of-network charges for secondary providers have led to excessive medical billing amounts for patients who simply visited the wrong hospital at the wrong time.

The Problem: Hospital Network Staff Outsourcing

This major problem, that results in more out of pocket dollars than expected, really has to do with how hospitals staff. Hospitals may simply bring in outside doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff who aren’t effectively on staff at that facility, in order to help fully staff an emergency room or other hospital department. This is a convenient fix for hospitals, but what’s enraging is the idea that hospital administrators don’t think about the dramatic impact that out-of-network charges can have on patients.

What happens with out-of-network charges is that when outside physicians or other staffers happen to provide care to a particular patient, that patient is simply billed for the balance of that care because of an automatic insurer denial. Insurance companies won’t usually pay for the work of out-of-network professionals, but hospitals hire them anyway. Read the rest of this entry →

Are You Being Treated by a Subcontracted Doctor?

May 28, 2012 in health care costs, Health Insurance, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Care, Medicare

A recent story from Dayton, Ohio, caught our attention, where according to news reports, some patients remain responsible for emergency room charges when a hospital happens to ‘subcontract’  doctors who may not accept health insurance at all. This adds another layer to the oftentimes confusing in network vs. out of network debate. In many cases, especially in an emergency situation, patients who visit a local hospital or facility may experience unexpected costs after they are cared for by a doctor who may not be ‘in their network’, even if the facility itself is listed as an in network provider. There’s been a lot of discussion whether this, which may seem deceptive, especially to those without specialized knowledge in the medical billing and health insurance field, is fair. In fact, state officials, like in New York, are  looking to pass legislation which mandates better transparency for out of network charges. Taking the time to understand your health insurance plan and what defines a covered provider or facility can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in non-covered charges.

It seems providers tend to respond to these scenarios in two ways: Some indicate they will change their policies to include more transparency while others claim to be bound by federal laws that do not allow them to reveal to patients whether an on-call doctor or a physician on shift will accept their insurance or not.

We find the second argument to be completely unacceptable at face value. In fact, it’s reasonable that consumer advocates would expect state regulators to crack down on these well documented examples of seemingly unfair provisions in delivering medical services. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that a patient facing bankruptcy after a bill like this would have a basis for legal appeal, especially as new legislation is introduced and passed. It’s vitally important that you discuss your options and ask questions before treatment to minimize impact to your financial future. How prepared are you in the event of an emergency room visit?

Beware of Balance Billing in Hospital Bills

May 12, 2012 in health care costs, Health Insurance, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills

Balance billing occurs when a healthcare provider bills a patient for some or the entire amount that should have been declared an insurance discount (contractual allowance). The fact that Prime Healthcare Services in California recently settled a suit for $1.2 million and discontinued the practice suggests that this is a problem. In fact, several states have statutes that prohibit balance billing.

How do you tell if you’ve been balanced billed? First, you have to determine if your treatment was performed by an in or out-of-network healthcare professional. Then, you have to check your EOB (Explanation of Benefits).

In- Network

Check an erroneous charge simply by seeing if the bill for the service exceeds the amount on the EOB. If it does, let your insurance company know and let them handle it.

Out-of-Network (OON)

There are two scenarios:

  • If you have an OON benefit, the OON deductible and co-insurance will apply first. The insurance company pays the balance above that like always. However, if the provider billed you for more than the deductible and co-insurance you may be the victim of a scam. Check the EOB. Did insurance pay the provider? If so, report it. It’s a scam and it is wrong.
  • If you do not have an OON benefit and accidentally got treated by the provider, tell them you want to be treated like an uninsured patient. A standard discount will be applied.

When in doubt, check with a medical bill advocate.