GMA: Hidden Costs in Hospital Bills

ByABC News via GMA logo
April 10, 2001, 4:48 PM

April 12 -- A closer look at your hospital bill could reveal that you have paid big bucks for thermal therapy (hospital jargon for ice cubes in a bag) or disposable mucous recovery systems a.k.a. tissues.

And you're not alone.

A group of auditors hired by insurance companies recently found errors in over 90 percent of the hospital bills they examined. An audit by Equifax found that hospital bills that totaled more than $10,000 contained an average error of $1,300.

The reasons behind the mistakes range from double billing to human error, but the bottom line is the same: Someone always pays.

Patients No Longer in Clear

In the past, the average patient didn't have to worry about errors in billings because if a health care provider overcharged, the insurance company picked up the bills and the patient landed in the clear.

But today, any claim denied by insurance companies comes out of the patient's pocket no matter what the policy's out-of-pocket limit, because that limit only applies to what the insurance company agrees to cover. If they don't agree to cover all or part of your treatment, you are responsible for paying.

There are steps that patients can take to protect themselves and specific errors to look for. The first step is obtaining an itemized bill from the hospital, and a copy of your medical records.

Hugh Delehanty, editor of Modern Maturity magazine warns that this may not be an easy task because hospitals do not like to have people scrutinize their bills. But persistent patients can get the information they need.

Double-Takes From Doctors

The next step is carefully scrutinizing the bill for errors.

The most common way that hospitals and medical labs can overcharge is known as double-billing. This happens when a doctor bills a patient separately for tests or procedures that are performed at the same time.

If a doctor performs two procedures during the same surgery but charges as though they were done independently, for example, that is double billing. It should be billed as one procedure, and the costs should be lower.