Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

How to deal with a mountan of hospital bills.

   The Mini-Marathon® is on May 5. This is my personal account of why the Mini®—this will be my 14th in a row—is important to me.  To paraphrase the title of The Ventures’ song, I walk—do not run—the 13.1 miles. Considering that in 1994, by the second of nine days in the hospital, I completely had lost use of my legs, doing those 13.1 miles is pretty good.

   Insomnia hit me pretty hard. That is a common side-effect of MS. I would awaken about 2 am, realize the futility of struggle, and go into the study to work. Sarah would drop me off at my office on her way to her office in the morning. I would walk home at lunch and rest, then (1) do paperwork and (2) fix dinner.

   If you are in a relationship, want to acquire a good cook, and know the protocols for certain drugs, get your hands on steroids and slip them into your significant other’s morning coffee. I was not serious about that; only joking. (The pills would need to be ground up too finely; mix them into oatmeal or some other cereal or maybe some muffins.) I was on 100 mg per day of prednisone. Sarah would come home and find I had fixed some new, gourmet (by our standards) dish. I remember, in particular, one night I fixed four stuffed chicken breasts, glazed in something that took, just for the glaze, an hour to prepare. She was impressed. We sat down to eat. She was half-way through her piece of chicken and looked up. I had gone through the other three and asked, "Are you going to eat all of yours?" I packed on weight—not what I wanted to do—and killed inflamation—what the doctors wanted—with those five little white pills each morning. I also took a pill to protect my stomach lining from the prednisone.

   With steroids, however, come mood swings. (Not to mention that, probably, I could not compete in any Olympic events or professional sports.) I could become Mr. Happy Face, or teary and empathetic over whatever topic. I also could become angry, but I could select when to turn on that emotion. I found it particularly useful when I dealt with insurance claims adjusters—most of whom are cool, but a few of whom are not. I would unleash on the few who were not cool.

   Nearly instantaneous with my arrival home was the arrival of the first of the bills.

   This is very important. I mean that, otherwise I would not have written the words in bold. If one is hospitalized for an extended basis, one will get hit with bills from several entities, not only the hospital. There can be variations, but it is possible that every specialist and every service provider by whom/which one is treated or seen also is a separate business entity. So one might have as creditors: hospital, lead doc, radiologist, any other consulting physicians, etc. One of the most important concepts is to keep all these entities in mind. 

   If, after an extended stay in a hospital and one is uninsured, there are several ways to meet the huge wall of debt. The most obvious is to file bankruptcy (or "bk" as members of my profession—I’m a lawyer, btw—call it). If that is one’s choice, make sure all the bills are gathered, take them to the bk attorney, and proceed. Unfortunately, in the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency, many protections provided by bankruptcy laws to people heavily in debt were taken away. Caveat: I am not very familiar with that area of law. 

   A second is to find someone who is rich, strike up a relationship, and hope that s/he will pay all that debt. That’s unlikely, but I thought I’d toss that in.

   A third is kind of like what happened here. In response to the first bill I received from the hospital, I purchased a money order in the amount of Fifty Dollars ($50.00) from the U.S. Post Office. I did that because that was the amount I could afford, I did not want the hospital to know where I banked (as that can lead to their seeking to attach accounts), and I did not want the hospital to sit on checks in hope they could get something to bounce. I sent the money order to the hospital with a letter to the effect that this was the first of my weekly payments toward balance of my account and I would continue such payments, and other such sums as they became available, until my account was paid. I also wrote that—in tiny letter—on the indorsement side of the check. That is important. Then I sent the M.O. by certified mail, return receipt requested, to those lovely people in the finance office at the hospital.

   Days and weeks became routine. Go to the office, walk home at noon, fix a nice dinner. I went to court on crutches. I became angry with myself one day because I could not stand when the judge entered the courtroom. She was aware of my condition and gave me a stern look that said get back in your seat. (Judge Reichard was great on the bench.) I also had to wear tennis shoes because the bottoms of my feet still were numb. I would call court staff and make sure my wearing tennis shoes for legitimate, medical reasons was okay. (Judge Keele, although a Wabash alum, is great on the bench.)

   I got home one day and answered the phone. A person from the finance department at the hospital did the usual collection intro and asked when I would make payment. I informed her I already had a payment plan arranged. She said there was no such plan indicated in my file. I advised her that according to Indiana law, and the rule of accord and satisfaction, the hospital already had accepted my payment alternative. (Did I mention I kept photocopies of the letters and fronts and backs of the checks?) She became flustered and started to lecture me on the law. I asked for a supervisor. The conversation went the same way. I asked to be transferred to the legal department. After two minutes, the person there asked, "We accepted how many payments?" I told her. She knew they were screwed. I made that fifty-dollar payment each week in the same format and form, and with the same cover letter. As long as I did so, they could not take legal action on the balance of twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00).

   At the same time, Sarah and I got a copy of an itemized billing. We checked out the guidelines for authorized procedures. And we started eliminating items from the bill. I would call finance and say, "You cannot bill me for four MRIs when insurance companies only would have allowed two." There went nearly two grand they had tried to squeeze out of me. The MRIs had not been necessary. The machine was idle. It was the middle of the night. They could run me through it and bill me. Or—my neuro really wanted four pictures of the same thing in three days. Anyway, those went away, as did charges like the $85 for occupational therapy.

   I always was careful as I walked home each day, but one day in particular was tricky. Everything was slick. I got to one corner and was about to step into the cross-walk when the driver of a car locked his brakes and slid by. The street was covered with ice. I felt lucky not to have been in front of that car. I looked both ways, saw no traffic, stepped out into the cross-walk, and my feet flew out from under me. I slid a few feet further and was in the center of the lane. I looked up in time to see another car, that just had come around the corner, headed at me. The driver locked his brakes.

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