facebook The pandemic is fueling a rise in ‘surprise’ medical bills

BIG PHARMA POLITICS: Consumers pressure politicians to do something about rising drug prices. Read More

The pandemic is fueling a rise in ‘surprise’ medical bills

As if the worry of a worldwide pandemic wasn’t enough, the worry of “surprise” medical bills is still top-of-mind for many Americans.

Twenty percent of hospital bills may contain surprise charges, even for fully insured patients, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association published earlier this year.

“Surprise medical bills are a major driver of financial anxiety and disruption for families nationwide that are already straining under the weight of an ongoing pandemic,” Dr. Mitchell S. V. Elkind, president of the American Heart Association and a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, told Healthline.

These surprise charges create major financial burdens for more than 2 in 3 U.S. adults, a Harris Poll conducted for the American Heart Association found..

Experts say consumers can reduce their odds of receiving a surprise bill by:

  • Researching what your health insurance plan covers before you get treatment, and get a cost estimate from your medical providers
  • Checking all the charges when a bill arrives to make sure they’re correct. As many as 80 percent of health care bills contain mistakes.

Still, these unexpected charges may take even the most diligent consumers by surprise. One of the leading reasons people get surprise medical bills is because they unknowingly receive medical services from a health care provider, hospital, or medical transportation company outside of an insurer’s coverage network.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased opportunities for surprise billing, according to Healthline.

As the American Heart Association noted, “The coronavirus pandemic has deepened concerns that patients are receiving care from out-of-network hospitals and providers because of overcrowding at in-network facilities, being surprise-billed for COVID-19 tests and treatment, and struggling under the weight of financial pressures during the pandemic’s resulting economic crisis.”

Some COVID-19 tests may be free, but others can cost hundreds of dollars. These can include tests for asymptomatic infections or tests conducted by out-of-network providers.

“When you receive your bill, examine the items, and if anything isn’t clear to you or seems incorrect, ask for clarification and corrections,” Ian Wright, CEO of the retirement and end-of-life planning information portal Bequests, told Healthline. “The bottom line is that you need to take the initiative.”

Have you received a surprise medical bill during the pandemic? Did you challenge the charges? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.