Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Can you pay my telephone bills? Do you pay my automo' bills?

"Ma'am, I hear you getting frustrated and I think what you're getting frustrated with here is yourself because you can't seem to understand that because you came to the hospital twice you have two different accounts with us."

No, I totally get that part. 

I think it's...ridiculous...but I understand it. 

I'm. Not. Dense. 

What I am frustrated about is that for whatever "reason" that account is still "pending" and so my co-pay (over $1000) is tied up in that account. Even though my insurance shows their portion of the payment has cleared and even though you're holding onto hundreds of dollars of mine...for some "reason" the account is still "pending." 

Technically, we can pay this surprise bill ($800 or so) without hardship. Technically. So why am I upset? 

Because I feel like I did everything right and still I managed to do everything wrong. 

So basically, I'm frustrated because Northside Hospital's billing department is a complete mess.
First of all, they require that you make a "prepayment" prior to your baby's birth. Which is almost friendly. They even let you pay it in installments rather than all at once. Which, great. That part is great.

Here's the thing with babies, though. They're tricky little things! 

Like, I honestly didn't feel any more in labour when we went to the hospital on November 13 than I did when we went to the hospital on October 14. If my water had not broken I honestly don't know when I would have realized that I was in labour. I actually felt more like I was in labour on October 14 because I was actually having contractions then. Obviously I began having contractions on November 13...but I wasn't least not that I noticed...and I arrived at the hospital dilated to a six.

So I feel rather justified in having gone to the hospital on October 14 for preterm labour concerns when I was feeling contractions.

They kept me for observation. And then discharged me.

The payments I'd made toward my "prepayment" bill were applied to that appointment, as they should have been, I guess. 

But then because I was discharged my "account" was "resolved." 

I mean, it's still pending (so they can't issue a refund) but it's been "resolved" (so any other pregnancy issues are a different case). 

When I went to make my final payment I had all sorts of issues trying to pay it because I no longer existed in their system because I had been admitted and released from the hospital—my case, so to speak, had been closed. But they didn't want me to re-preregister for my birth that hadn't yet occurred. At any rate, they didn't create a new account (or open a new case) for me. Instead they found a way to apply my final prepayment to that resolved/closed (yet somehow still pending) account.

I mean, you'd think they'd have a system in place for when a woman goes to the hospital for preterm labour observation because I think that's a pretty common occurrence. I mean, I've only ever done it once, personally, but, like...from what I hear it is pretty common. 

But evidently Northside Hospital is unable to deal with such shenanigans. 

So when I went in to deliver Phoebe for realsies, they opened a new account for me. 

An account with $0 in it. 

Meanwhile, I have an account with about $1000 in it just sitting around waiting for the hospital to "resolve" whatever issue they have so that they can refund that money to me. This is the money I thought I had paid as my co-payment.

Meanwhile, the hospital sends me a bill asking me to give them $800 because—like a doofus—I didn't preregister or make any prepayments...except that I did preregister and make my prepayments. The hospital just locked all that stuff up with my "resolved" account because they don't have a way to recognize that a mom who was in the hospital for false labour will—by necessity—be back to deliver her baby later (duh).

Meanwhile, my insurance has no way of knowing whether or not I paid my copayment because the hospital didn't report to them that I paid it because technically they're not keeping it; it's pending reimbursement (whenever they decide to finish...pending). So my insurance isn't going to pay this portion of the bill, which means that we have to pony up and pay it...even though by my calculations we'd already met our out-of-pocket expenses...having already made our prepayment to the hospital (and our payments to the doctor's office). 

Which means that our out-of-pocket expenses end up being $800 more than what we'd bargained for simply because Northside Hospital's billing department is fundamentally messed up. 

And that's cool. We're good for it. But, like, what if we weren't?!

What if we'd carefully planned out when and how to pay all these many, many baby bills so that we could do Christmas for our kids? And why won't the stinking lady on the phone at least be sympathetic to my frustrations?! Like, yeah...I'm frustrated because I don't understand...not because you're holding onto $1000 of mine while demanding $800 more.

I understand that we will eventually get that money back but, like, the whole point of me prepaying for my hospital bill in installments was to not be saddled with a big chunky bill after the delivery, right? 

So I get it. 

I understand

But in spite of my understanding, I'm still frustrated that I have to give $800 to the hospital right away while I have to wait for them to give me my $1000 back just...whenever they get around to it...because they're bad at billing and don't understand how pregnancy works.

It's like they try to make it difficult for patients.

Just another installation in my "America's medical system ain't that great" diary...

Also—while we're complaining—this customer service lady clearly thought I was an utter moron because I didn't know my account number. 

Like an idiot I gave her my account number from the front of my bill...the one in large font that is clearly labeled "account number"...when what I should have given her was the one on the back of the bill in tiny font, also labeled "account number." 

These numbers are different. Because of course they are.

But one is like, my patient account number and one is my visit account number (I have two visit account numbers) but for "clarity's" sake they're just both called "account number" and the one you actually need to reference is the one that's hard to find. And you should just know this when you call in.

My last musing is that I finally gave up on talking to them on the phone (their office hours, by the way, end at 4:00...just to make it as difficult as possible for people with jobs to contact them, I guess) and sent them an email instead. Because my bill says that's an option. 

So I sent them an email once again asking my questions (my insurance company, for example, said to ask for an itemized bill so I can check on why I was billed for an ICU stay...and whether or not that's normal...and I didn't feel like going through the phone tree and hold time for that) and hilariously I got an email back telling me—ex post facto—to be sure that my message included:
  • My full name and date of birth
  • The date of service
  • The account number [which one?!]
  • Details of my issue
  • My telephone number
As it turns out, I did not actually think to include all of that information (though I did think to include some of it). I didn't know what their expectations would be. Because there were no instructions on what to include in an email until after you send an email (even on the website; I checked). Which, I dunno, feels out of order somehow. 

Could just be me though.

It's probably me.

After all, it seems I'm the first woman to ever have gone to the hospital for labour pains only to be sent home still pregnant...


  1. What a mess!! I am so sorry for your frustration!!!

  2. Did a customer service rep really utter that first sentence?! She needs to have a bit more instruction on dealing with 'difficult' customers (and I doubt there is a difficult bone in your whole family).

    As if you didn't have enough to do homeschooling six children, going to grad school and living in a global pandemic! Honestly the best thing you, with your brilliant skills as a writer, could do for Northside Hospital patients is to send this blog to the administrator of the billing department, and on up the chain. Change needs to happen, and apparently you get to be the one to bring it to their attention. (This is the curse of skilled writers.)

    My son's tympanoplasty has been postponed until the 27th of this month. (Originally set for the 3rd, but that's a whole other story!) I've explained that we need to get it done before the end of the year because our deductible resets in January. The doctor is billing the follow-up visit (on Jan 4th) as part of the surgical procedure so that it goes on this year's deductible. It CAN be done!

    1. Totally agree with Sharaun! Send this blog link to the hospital administrator.

    2. Maybe I will, if I get brave. And, yes, the rep really said that.

  3. I would have lost it at the person who uttered that first sentence, so if you somehow managed to hold your composure I'm thoroughly impressed. Sigh, the american health insurance and medical system is such a mess. I agree with Sharaun that you should send this as your feedback to them.