Biff America: Costly corrections
It was Davy vs. Goliath — and Davy won. I’m Davy.
A year ago, I decided to look into getting a minor body part malady repaired. No, it wasn’t a vanity issue — tummy tuck, butt lift or that thing where they put enough silicone in your lips so you resemble a carp.
My personal physician recommended a doctor in Denver considered to be one of the best in the state.
I drove down to this buffed clinic. The doc was cool, owns a second home in Breck and said he recognized my name — everyone in his health center was kind and professional. The doc said he was certain he could “considerably improve” my condition and was about 70% sure he could fix it totally. I got a good feeling from this guy.
I told him, depending what my out of pocket expense would be, I would either see him again or live with it. I gave the front desk my insurance info so they could find out what was covered and what I’d have to eat.
A few weeks later I got a call from a nice gal who worked for the clinic. She told me the procedure at retail cost was about five grand, but with my good insurance it would cost me a little north of $500.
As a teenager, whenever I would talk to my dad about spending money to buy something, let’s say a $100 leather jacket, he would ask, “Will you get $100 worth of pleasure out of it?”
I decided I’d get at least $500 worth of pleasure out of my improved part, so I made a reservation. A month later I went in, paid a little north of $500 and had it done.
In a nutshell the doctor was correct, he improved my condition considerably.
Six weeks later I got another bill for $1,500. So, it turns out what was supposed to be $500 price tag turned into $2,000. I was sure it was a mistake; I called the clinic and was told it wasn’t.
I called my insurance guy. He said it was the clinic’s responsibility. I called the HR gal at a place I work and she agreed. To be clear, I called both those folks several times, they did their research and gave me the same answer.
Eventually I got an email form the sweet gal who originally gave me the quote and she said she made a mistake. She was both apologetic and honest.
I made my way up the food chain of the clinic’s billing department, until I got to the gal in charge of all things finance. I told her of their misquote and said, “OK, I know mistakes happen, but you are billing me four times the quoted amount, how about I pay double the quoted amount and mail you another $500?”
I was told to pay in full or I would be turned over to a collection agency.
I will admit, I’m high-strung and a bit of a worrier. I was losing sleep over this thing and bugging the heck out of my mate and anyone who would listen. I also was bugging the crap out of every lawyer friend I knew asking for free advice. I’d call, make small talk with them for 30 seconds, then pivot to “Hey, can a collection agency repo my house?”
It wasn’t just the money. I’m going to die with $1,500 in the bank, but I couldn’t get over the feeling of unfairness and helplessness. This went on for several months and I was getting bothered by collections. It affected my sleep, quality of life and drove my mate and everyone who I complained to crazy.
Finally I threw a Hail Mary pass and wrote an email to the chairman of the clinic’s board. I pleaded my case and told of my offer to pay double, but not quadruple, the original quote. I also raved about the great care I received. After an exchange of a few more emails (over a month’s time) he wrote and said we were even-steven.
Now granted, I only know health care through the eyes of a patient and I am only telling my side of the story. But something is not right in America’s health care system. Whatever the final result, I would have been fine. But what would the poor, desperate and terminally ill do in a similar circumstance? What would someone with a sick child do?
I don’t blame any one person. I blame the morass that is America’s insurance and health care system. The system where the care is amazing but the corporations are unapproachable at best, heartless at worse.
And, if any of you readers run into me at the post office, don’t ask to see my fixed body part. You couldn’t afford it.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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