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I had a rude awakening recently when I visited the emergency room with an excruciating stomach ache. I could hardly walk and required morphine to stop my pain. Little did I know the pain from that visit would also include a doctor bill for almost $1,400 dollars.

I am enrolled in a very good, reputable insurance plan and I went to a hospital which was in my network. I only expected to pay under $400.00 for this visit. Yet the hospital, unknown to me, was hiring out of network medical providers. I received a lovely letter telling me I was a valued customer, but it clearly stated “You will likely receive separate bills from physicians or other healthcare provider for services or tests they provided while you were in our hospital. These bills are separate from your hospital bill. If you have questions about these bills, please contact their billing office at the number provided on their statement."

We religiously pay our health care premiums with the expectation that we have set copays and deductibles, provided that we use in network providers, yet we have had to face similar bills before for diagnostics test from doctors’ offices that were in the network. This happens in many other scenarios, not just emergencies. What then is the value of having health insurance? Mind you, my out of pocket costs for doctor visits have tripled and in some cases quadrupled over the last decade while significant deductables have also been added.

It is useless to try to budget for medical costs if enrolling in a health care plan does not shield you from being billed the full cost for your medical care. Some states have laws that protect patients from these billing practices while others do not.  The total bill for my treatment for my non-life threatening ailment and overnight stay exceeded $13,000. Am I lucky that I only have $1,400 to pay? I guess I should be doing the happy dance. Lucky me!

I have noticed that many doctors’ offices are using various methods to get more cash up front. Recently I went to see an optician who was using all kinds of doublespeak to get my spouse to avoid using an insurance card, like offering to charge only $10.00 for a follow up visit which would have required no out of pocket costs. Another was advising me repeatedly to buy drug store glasses instead of filling my prescription for no out of pocket costs with my card, even though drug store glasses are made with inferior lenses and other cheap materials. The level of service the public receives from some doctors is truly appalling and the system requires a lot more regulation or middle class families will continue to be saddled with ridiculous medical bills.

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