Pay first, ask questions later

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My doctor’s office made a new, and pretty scary, request this morning. It was a routine visit, and when I paid my co-pay (and an odd 55 cent balance left over from last time) they gave me another form to sign. It informed me that, in order to reduce paper use and costs, the office was going to begin automatically billing my credit card, rather than send a bill for me to pay, after the insurance company had paid its share.

It just so happens that this doctor’s office always gets the billing right, my insurer has never had any problem paying them correctly, and the amount I usually owe them is pretty minimal, like that 55 cents . So I gave them my credit card number and signed the form. But I’m pretty scandalized about the implications. In most places I’d have never signed that form.

What if my insurance – accidentally or on purpose – denied payment for something they’re supposed to cover? My credit card gets billed for the balance? Then I not only have to fight the insurance company to pay the claim, but have to try and get a refund from the doctor too.

And what about the charge to my card in the meantime? What if it’s an expensive procedure? How do I know my credit can take such a big hit – or when it’s going to hit? What if it pushes me over my credit limit – will my insurer refund me the overcharge fees too? Unlikely. And it can take a ridiculous amount of time to get an insurer to fix a problem.

Does your doctor tell you beforehand what a procedure’s going to cost? Mine almost never does, and when I ask they often can’t answer anyways because they don’t know how much they’ve agreed to be paid by the insurance company, or what portion of that will fall to me in the end. And what if, when an insurer wrongly denies a claim, the doctor’s office then charges me ‘full price’ – the amount that uninsured consumers pay that’s often two, three, or even ten times the cost charged to consumers with insurance – rather than the lower amount they negotiated with the insurer?

What if it becomes a trend, and insurance companies, knowing that patients will be billed the difference, start underpaying or refusing to pay legitimate claims in the hopes that unsuspecting consumers won’t notice the difference? Every single consumer in America has been overcharged at some point in their lives. I should have a chance to read and approve every bill before paying it. Automatic billing negates that. The implications are vast — definitely something I’m going to keep an eye on.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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