Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Surprise costs

OK, I haven't written in a while, mostly because I've been swamped at work and preoccupied. I'm going to have minor surgery tomorrow, and I'm nervous even though it's no big deal. But now I have to vent.

A little background: I'll be having the surgery done at a large hospital which has a busy outpatient surgery center that handles thousands of patients per year, a well-oiled machine. So here's my gripe: I received a phone call today from the billing department of the hospital where I'll be having my surgery, exactly 24 hrs before the scheduled time of surgery. I was told that I needed to pay approximately $1000 tomorrow before I have surgery, the "facility cost" that is not covered by my health insurance, payable by check, cash, or credit card. Now, even though I'm not thrilled about it, I am fortunate enough to have a steady job that provides me with a solid income; I also guessed that I would have to pay something so I was somewhat prepared mentally. What stunned me was that I received so little notice. The surgery was scheduled more than two weeks ago, and I gave the hospital my insurance information at that time. Presumably, I could have been notified shortly thereafter about the fee or even given an estimate of the fees at the time of scheduling. I know many people who would have a hard time paying this large fee. Perhaps the hospital arranges payment plans for those who can't afford a lump sum payment, but I do feel that advance notice is critical and courteous. For those who have a hard time paying, advance notice gives them a chance to speak to family members or their bank about borrowing money, or to put aside money from a paycheck or two specifically for the surgery or to put off making another big purchase. I wonder if it's done like this everywhere. I do know that the same 24 hr notice was given to a member of my staff who had surgery at another hospital just a few weeks ago, which added a lot of stress to an already stressful situation.

I think that especially in these challenging economic times, all of us need to be considerate of each other's needs. There, that's my piece. I'll be back online in a day or two to let you know what it's like being a patient, a good reminder for all of us docs around who sometimes forget!!

And by the way, GO TARHEELS!!!!!

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