Don't Trust Your Medical Bills

A growing pool of data shows how common it is to receive incorrect charges for healthcare-related costs.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
Two people doing paperwork
Photo by Zackary Drucker for The Gender Spectrum Collection 

In a report released Tuesday about the healthcare billing process, nearly half of all respondents say they’ve received an incorrect or otherwise confusing medical bill, leading a majority of people to distrust what they’re told they owe by providers.The report comes from a survey of 1,000 people by Salucro Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare payment technology company, and paints a grim picture of how little faith people put in the biggest, most important purchases they make.


Only 33 percent of people surveyed said they felt “very confident” that the bill they get from their provider is accurate. Which, considering the propensity for medical bills to be wrong, even seems kinda high. Perhaps no one should feel “very confident” in their medical bills, but stories about getting incorrect medical bills, whether from insurance companies or providers, are plentiful. An August 2018 story from Consumer Reports details one particularly harrowing instance where, thanks to a simple clerical error, a privately insured, 32-year-old man was incorrectly billed more than $33,000 following a four-week hospital stay. With the help of his mom—who *worked in medical billing* before she retired—he spent the next several years disputing the charges, which were sent to collections. He ultimately was issued a refund and had his name cleared by collections, but as the Consumer Reports story notes, not every patient who’s incorrectly billed has this kind of good fortune. Or, for that matter, the resources and time to spiral through all the administrative rigamarole.

Aside from surveys like the one released this week (plus another that Consumer Reports ran in 2018), there doesn’t appear to be anyone tracking the data on healthcare billing issues. It’s almost like…………. “the medical system” relies on everyone failing to notice how bad it is? A simple Google or Twitter search offers a glimpse at how extremely common it is to receive incorrect bills from providers demanding buckets of money, usually as a result of a tiny little clerical uh-oh. At this rate, receiving a bunk bill feels like an inevitability… or at least it might be wise to think of it that way, to avoid going into debt because someone in a hospital billing office pressed the wrong button.

This isn’t an argument against paying your bills (though that would be cool) at the risk of yeeting yourself into debt collection, such that you can never rent anything more substantial than a cable box ever again. The sparing data available, however, gives a clear lesson: Scrutinize the your medical bills very carefully, because unfortunately no one else in this disjointed insurance-provider-customer triangle is going to do that for you.

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