Take a Selfie in the ER — It Could Save You Thousands

No matter how sick or injured you are if you must go to a hospital emergency department, there's a critical moment you should capture on camera. It could save you thousands of dollars and your credit score.

That critical moment is the instant you hand over your current identification and health insurance card upon admission.

If you're in serious condition and taken straight to triage, the billing department will send a representative to your bedside to acquire that information. Ask a friend or family member to snap a picture if you can't.

Why am I so paranoid about such a thing?

Over two years ago, I went to the local ED for severe abdominal pain. Weeks passed, but I didn't receive a bill. Concerned, I phoned the hospital and made several trips to the billing department to make inquiries. Who goes to those lengths if they're trying to avoid paying a bill?

"Don’t worry about it," the billing representatives said. They reassured me, saying, "It takes health insurance companies a long time to file claims." In fact, the hospital had filed the claim with a previous insurer.

Later, my phone began to ring incessantly. The calls were from a creditor. My bill was turned over to collections without a word from the hospital. When I returned to the hospital to protest, the billing department claimed I never presented proof of insurance or a current address on my DOS (date of service). I know that I did.

It took two and a half years to finally get that bill paid. In the meantime, the outstanding balance in collections destroyed my credit rating. I spent countless hours talking on the phone, going to the billing office, and pulling together paper trails and phone logs to prove my case.

The hospital, under pressure, finally had their "charitable arm" put us through exhausting, humiliating hoops to qualify for "financial assistance" - assistance that could have gone to someone else if the billing department had done their job efficiently. They even tried to deny financial assistance by claiming I did not return the application in time. However, I had a paper trail and phone log to provide to the Better Business Bureau.

All of the exhausting wrangling and the damage to my credit could have been prevented by a simple, clear photo of the moment I handed over my current identification card and proof of insurance. Without that, it became a "he said, she said" situation.

The hospital's own protocol belied them. The billing department always sends a representative to your bedside. If you do not have coverage, they call in a social worker to sign you up for indigent care. Rest assured that the billing department will not let you out the door without some form of coverage.

Sad to say, large hospital systems and collection agencies will often do their best to wear you down until you’re too tired to fight anymore. Don’t let them. Keep a paper trail and phone log, including your expired insurance cards. (A habit of periodically dumping all my cards on a copier in case I lost my wallet saved my skin.)

So take a selfie. Know your rights, and refuse to be bullied into paying a bill you don't owe.

*Be sure you do NOT photograph hospital personnel or other patients — only yourself and personal cards. Do note the name of the person to whom you give your information, their description, the date, and time of day.
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