Why insured people aren’t paying their medical bills

Last week I blogged about an increase in the number of people with insurance who aren’t paying medical bills. At North Memorial, for example, $1 million in unpaid bills by people with insurance in 2007 swelled to $8 million in 2008.

So MPR’s Michael Caputo, of the Public Insight Network, solicited your stories about this factoid.

One of the things he found is that a lot of unpaid bills are the result of battles that consumers are waging with insurance companies, health care providers, or the go-betweens that are supposed to prevent bureaucratic nightmares with insurance companies and health care providers.


Liz Shatek of Cambridge tells the story of not having nearly enough money to pay for health costs, including those around the birth of a child. So she was counseled by her insurance provider to use a financial services provider – MedCredit – that gives loans to patients who can’t afford the bill.

“Anyway, once we started questioning whether insurance had covered the appropriate amounts, we started getting caught in between the MedCredit company and the insurance company. Both would tell us we needed to talk to the other first, no one seemed able to get at the information we were asking for and I wanted to pull my hair out! I was trying to take care of a new baby in between insurance phone calls and waiting on hold for hours (our phone bill was astronomical for a few months). Eventually we just used tax money to pay off the last of the balance with MedCredit and stopped worrying about whether the insurance company had paid for what they said they would.”

Find some of Michael’s stories here. He’s still looking for yours.

  • mike

    Amazing! I’m still flabergasted at the cost of medical care…even standard care.

    I had an anxiety related problem (due to the economy no less) and visited the emergency room. They did an EKG and a chest xray and lab work (cardiac enzymes among other tidbits). They wanted to hospitalize me after about an 1.5 hours. I said why…does my EKG look unusual. They said the EKG was mildly abnormal, and one of the cardiac enzymes were “out”. So I said I would have my wife drive me to the hospital since I didn’t have insurance to pay for an ambulance ride. The doctor started getting all irate and said I would sue him, and that I NEEDED TO BE MONITORED during the trip..

    WOW…It sounded like my condition was pretty bad…huh? Reluctantly, I agreed to the ambulance ride. Amazing, the ride to hospital was just that…a ride. No vital signs taken or no heart monitor or anything in route to the hospital. I was scratching my head here.

    I arrived at the hospital directly to a room. I waited about an hour for a nurse to show up. Once showed up and showed me how to use the TV and the bed, and how to order food. Great! i guess i am on the road to recovery (sarcasm added).

    A doctor came in later and visited me. I kept saying I thought I had had a anxiety attack or something (i’m a daytrader…yeah lots of run but what else can you do with a job). My doctor said all lab reports looked fine, but he wanted to do a stress test. I asked about the EKG and the cardiac enzymes, and he said everything looked fine. Well that’s strange….the ER told me that things weren’t so fine.

    (later came to realize that the hospital and emergency room are one in the same. so you see how it works here…let’s get a tab running on this guy. )

    Well they never put me on a heart monitor that night…even though they were concerned about my heart…i guess.

    Next day i had the stress test. Did great on the treadmill like I was a 21 year old (i.m 52).

    I was telling my wife that Ihad no intentions of staying another night since everything seemed fine. I told the Dr. and his interns this also.

    doctor comes in about 5 hours after the test, and says I look fine. I asked about the stress test results, and he said he hadn’t seen them yet. Really! Wow, i was really scratching my head at this point, but i was ready to go.

    This fiasco occurred after I told them at the beginning (and over and over) that I had no job and no insurance. I even refused certain standard x-rays. After my discharge, a lady called from ARC and said they had a way to pay my bill for me. Except I would have to sign over all my rights of representation, and supply them with birth certificates, bank records, credit card statement, tax returns, W2 forms, statements of financial condition and other gross privacy concerns. I was aghast. But wait…I hadn;t even seen the bills yet.

    Open the bills today with shaking hands. Good god…we’re talking over $13,000. That’s for standard tests…nothing special. A one day and 2 hour stay at the hospital! I haven’t even seen the ambulance bill yet….i can just imagine though.

    Well…here’s my position. First off, I want a detailed bill…ON EVERYTHING. Then I want SOMEONE TO EXPLAIN TO ME WHY I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL AND WHAT THE RESULTS OF THE TESTS WERE. Then, i want copies of everything that was done on me. I don;t give a damn about any laws saying I CAN’T SEE MY OWN MEDICAL INFORMATION.

    I think they could have fixed the problem at the ER simply with a shot to calm me down. Actually, the oxygen did it quite well.

    I not really in that bad of shock. I realize that we live in a fascist state, and they want everything we have worked for over our lives. I don’t have much these days, but I guess sooner or later “they” will get every penny from me and my family. That is their goal and I’m convinced of that.

    The moral of the story…stay healthy and avoid (at all costs) trips to the ER and hospital. Stay informed on relevant medical conditions that might pertain to you, so you’re not jacked around when you hit their doors and you see $$ signs in their eyes. Please understand, all medical staff (except the Drs of course) were very cordial, helpful and understanding. But they know its a rigged game.

    No longer is seeking medical care a choice between life and death. its a choice between death and a slow death.

  • Paul

    I would simply refer you to Michael Moore’s “Sicko”