I’m all super positive and uber trusting in the universe and all loving of my circumstances and whatever. But the truth is, when you get a $108,000 bill just from your 4-day stay in a hospital after you break your leg (this doesn’t include surgery or anesthesia or ambulance or follow-up visits), you’re awesome rockin’ attitude can kinda waver a little freaking bit.
I’ve been trying not to freak about it. I’ve done the whole, “I live in abundance,” routine and “money is only energy” mantra and blah blah blah…you know, the evolved crap I say to myself. Either way, though, I had to start dealing with whatever I owe this past month as it’s now been 3 months and bill collectors are going to start calling if I keep ignoring it all. (BTW, ignoring it is just another one of my evolved methods of handling monstrous medical debt.)
First things first, I applied all my medical bills to my insurance. My somewhat psychic ex-husband suggested I stay on his insurance until the end of the term when we were getting divorced, and this term included the date of my accident and surgery. Mega thumbs up there, because by the time everything ran through I only owed a $500 deductible plus about $6,000 in services to the hospital.
Psychologically speaking, when you receive a bill for $108,000, you roll your eyes and throw it away because I’m not even going to consider trying to eat that elephant.
But when you receive a bill for $6,500, it’s way more plausible that you could actually pay it off someday, and that almost sucks more.
Once I applied the insurance, I was down to 5 separate physicians charging me for their services: the EMTs, the ER doctor, the ER radiologist, the surgeon, and the anesthesiologist. I called the billing department for each one, explaining that I could not pay these bills in full but that I could make payments.
“Ok, thanks so much for calling us,” they would all start. “It’s so helpful when people call to explain their situation with us so that we can work with them.” It feels like they’re going to REALLY help you when they say stuff like this. Then they say, “So would you like to split this $2,000 bill into 2 payments or 3?”
“No, you don’t understand. I have an extra $200 after I pay all my bills each month. It’s going to take me a long time to pay this down. I need small, manageable monthly payments.”
“Oh,” they then say. “So you can’t pay half now?”
“Not even close.”
“Well, you’ll need to make a monthly payment of $50, then. That’s the lowest monthly payment I can allow you to make.”
“Allow me to make? If I make a $50 monthly payment on every medical bill I have, I will be paying $250 a month. I don’t have $250 a month.”
“Yeeeeeeah,” they say like Lumberg from Office Space. “Fifty dollars is the lowest I can offer you.” Suddenly that whole gracious attitude thing goes away.
“Well, then I can’t make payments,” I respond wondering if this person making $12/hour on the financial customer service line has a spare $250 a month to pay the minimum on a $6,500 medical bill.
“I guess I could try putting you in the system for $25/month?” they ask, because they all lied when they said $50 was the lowest they could go.
“I can try to do that, but there might be months when I can’t do even that,” I respond, hoping against hope that one of these people is going to understand I’m a human being who just got divorced and lost financial security without actually having to get food stamps.
“You’ll have to call us on those months, because we need some form of payment every month.” This suggests to me that they’re all lying and that if I just send them $10 a month, they won’t ever go to the trouble of sending me to collections.
It’s after the first round of calling each of these organizations that I realize I haven’t yet asked if there is a financial assistance program.
“No, I’m sorry. We’re a for-profit organization.”
They all say this.
They all say this even though upon further investigation, I learn that a majority of for-profit medical organizations have a financial assistance or medical bill donation program. Yeah, that’s right. You’re screwing with a girl who has Google and knows how to use it.
Armed with THAT information, I start calling these places again. We go through similar conversations until finally, one…count ’em ONE…of the organizations agreed to send me a financial assistance form.
“You’ll have it within 7 days,” she said regretfully, as if I’d figured out the cheat to go straight to the Save the Princess Level.
Seven days passed. I called again.
“We don’t have your address on file so we didn’t send it.”
“You don’t have my address?! You’ve sent me the bill 3 times.”
“That’s billing. This is financial assistance.”
“Can’t you ask billing for it? Don’t you have their number?”
“It’s not in our system so we can’t send it.”
They’re not problem-solvers over there in financial assistance. So, I gave her my address. Problem solved. So easily.
Three days later I received a form for financial assistance asking all kinds of questions about my income, dated July 7. It was July 12th. The fine print said I had to have this paperwork signed and sent back within 7 days of the date on the letter. I have never prayed to USPS before this very moment…
After having some more panic-stricken middle of the night hysteria, I decided the smartest thing to do would be apply for a 0% credit card and pay off all the medical bills at once, making small and manageable payments to the 0% credit card for as long as it was 0%. The good news is that I have AMAZING credit thanks to the fact that my mom got me a credit card when I was 13 and TAUGHT ME TO USE IT. (Parents: do this. Do this for your children. It is so helpful when they break their legs at 32.) I paid off everything except for the one wherein I MIGHT qualify for financial assistance if it just so happens that financial assistance and billing find each other’s phone numbers and communicate that day.
Long story longer? I got an INCREDIBLY formal and celebratory piece of mail today.
One down. Four to go. Keep up the super positive and uber trusting in the universe and all loving of the circumstances and whatever people.