When You Get Charged For Someone Else’s Mistake: An Exciting Follow-Up

A combination of Obamacare and assertiveness wins the day

Here’s the story:

This week, I got a hospital bill charging me $600+ for my share of the expense of some blood and glucose tests to which my midwives had sent me. Some of that was legit, and some was for what I’m calling “the RhoGAM mishegas” — basically, a mistake on the part of the midwives — but I couldn’t tell exactly how much. Commenters suggested I call the hospital and get a price breakdown. I was about to follow that advice when a more detailed and helpful bill showed up from Oscar, my health insurance company.

Turns out that fully half the bill, or just over $300, was for the tests I didn’t need, to which I had been sent by accident. That’s not couch-cushion change; that’s worth fighting for. Right? Right. I girded my loins and strapped on my sword and waddled over to see the midwives, with whom I had an appointment anyway.

After I was done peeing in a cup and getting my blood pressure taken and doing all those fun routine pregnant lady monitoring things, I asked to speak to the person in charge of billing. She was out but, I was told, I could leave her a note. She’d read it and call me when she got in at 5:00 PM.

I made a copy of the itemized bill from Oscar, with the relevant $300 charge highlighted, briefly explained the situation in writing, and asked nicely for the office to incur that particular cost. Then, feeling maybe even a little optimistic, I waddled home, dreaming of donuts.

At 5:15 PM, the phone rang. It was the lady from billing. “I got your note,” she said. “So, would you like us to just send you a check?”

“That would be great,” I said. “Thank you.”

HOSANNAH

And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

Ahem. Yes.

It is perhaps a good time to mention that being assertive with medical providers and insurance companies has generally gone well for me during this, my instructive and expensive experience of being pregnant on Obamacare. To some degree, I have Oscar to thank. It’s more transparent and accessible than any other health insurance company I’ve dealt with.

Because Oscar sent me detailed breakdowns of every bill, I became familiar with the inflated cost of every pregnancy-related procedure, from ultrasounds to ABO blood typing. And because I had that information, I could say No, Thank You to some of the more unnecessary or redundant screens — like a third ultrasound in my first trimester for no stated reason, and in-depth genetic tests that would give me only a jumble of statistics about whether something scary might be more likely to happen — that were presented to me as de rigueur.

Then there was the time that Oscar freaked me out by sending me a letter saying they were severing ties with the hospital whose birth center is the only place my midwives deliver. I thought that meant I’d have to choose a new carrier. Instead I called the company, talked to a sympathetic guy for five minutes, and, like 24 hours later, got pregnancy-related special dispensation in writing to carry on at the hospital through June.

Obamacare isn’t perfect, and our American medical system in general is lamer than a three-legged horse, but I continue to be grateful for the fact that I’ve been able to get good, responsive care at a semi-reasonable cost. The whole experience has taught me important lessons about being less intimidated by bureaucracy and standing up for myself, even in medical contexts.