Hospitals and health care providers have been known to charge insane amounts for care without giving any advance knowledge to their customers. There are so many problems with this system. To name just a few, there are insurance discounts, where insurance companies negotiate discounts up to 90%. In order to achieve that, hospitals jack up their prices so they can still get paid. If your insurance company is not partnered with this hospital or you’re paying cash, you don’t get the discount. Another one is that hospitals are known for arbitrarily adding different services. Two people who stayed in the same hospital and received the same treatment might receive dramatically different bills.
This system is unfair, but there may be an easy fix.
The expectation is that you should walk into a hospital, get your service, get your bill, and pay. It’s not too different from a restaurant. The difference is that when you look at the menu in a restaurant, the prices are clearly displayed. Taxes aren’t usually listed, but if there is a mandatory tip or service charge for large parties, that’s usually on the menu. Sometimes there are things without prices like lobster that usually just says “Market”. If you order one of these items, most restaurants will inform you of the market price without even asking. You know exactly what you’re going to get and you can estimate your total bill.
With hospitals, there is no price sheet. Many times, even if you ask, they can’t even give you a ballpark figure. Imagine you go into a pizza restaurant, you ask how much it is for a large pizza, and they tell you they won’t know until they make it. You figure, you’ve had pizza before, it can’t be that much, so you order it. Then they bring you a bill for $50,000. Is that insane? What would you do? Would you pay it? After all, you did eat the pizza.
Most people would quickly identify this as a scam. Hospitals do the same thing, but we are less inclined to recognize it as such. The good news is that there is a great way to fight this.
I should start with a disclaimer that this is not legal advice and it might have some adverse effects, but it could also potentially fix one of the biggest flaws in the healthcare industry.
Simply put – refuse to pay your bill. I used to fight debt collectors and I know that the law is on our side when someone is demanding money from us. In order for them to have a legal cause to collect money from us, they need a contract. That contract, like the menu in the restaurant, needs to specifically say how much we could possibly owe them. Without that, they can’t just make up a number. If they do, you can refuse to pay.
The negative consequences of course are that a hospital or provider may refuse to treat you again. If you have ongoing medical needs, this could be a problem. Another risk is that debt collectors will harass you or report an unpaid amount on your credit report. The good news is that federal law with the Fair Debt Collections and Practices Act can be used to stop that. I have personally dealt with many debt collectors in the past, both inside and outside of court. Sometimes, simply informing them that they are in violation of the FDCPA and demanding a copy of the contract and detailed calculation of debt will make them completely disappear. I have even made lawsuits against debtors disappear by demanding the same.
You have to protect yourself. Even if they don’t tell you, you need to ask how much it’s going to cost ahead of time. If you don’t have insurance, they need to be informed that you will be paying cash. This due diligence will pay off if you ever need to fight them.
If you are being asked to pay an outrageously large amount for treatment, please contact us to see if we can help or offer advice.
When enough people refuse to pay, providers will be forced to list their prices ahead of time, to ensure they can get paid.
One thought on “How to Beat Unlisted Prices”
Fantastic advice! As a matter of practice, read the paperwork they hand you to fill out, don’t sign anything agreeing to pay.