Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why I'm not paying off my medical bills

I have a balance of a whopping $127 due to a local hospital. My payment agreement with them is $10 a month. I've been paying $10 a month for the past few years. Most "get out of debt" websites agree that since this is a small debt I should pay it off and get the "high" that comes with getting rid of a balance.

Here's why I'm not going to pay it off right now:
  • I'm not being charged interest on my payments.
  • The money can go towards our emergency fund and paying off other debt.
  • The hospital was a pain in the butt about billing me.
Number 3 is actually the biggest reason.

I was admitted in March of 2004 and stayed for less than 24 hours. It was awful, to say the least. We were on a PPO for the first time in my life and I was shocked to see the sheer number of medical bills come in. The x-ray tech billed me. The anesthesiologist that gave me morphine for the pain billed me. Every single doctor I saw billed me. The hospital billed me.

The first thing I did when I received those bills was to pay them. I did my absolute best to get them paid ASAP. Why? Because they provided me with a service and I wanted to make it right as soon as possible.

After a week or so I got yet another bill. I didn't have the money this time so I put it on one of my credit cards. I felt that they should be paid. Plain and simple.

A year and a half later... yes, I said eighteen months later... I receive a huge bill from the hospital. This started a long stream of phone calls to my hospital and insurance company trying to make it right. They sent no less than four revised bills. Then the insurance company changed their minds again.

Finally they figured out what I owed them and sent me a final bill. I called and said, "I did everything I could do to pay every bill that came into me after being released. I even put some of it on my credit cards. We just aren't in a position--a year and a half later--to pay a bill that should have been figured out months ago." I explained that our financial situation just didn't allow us to pay them and that I could afford ten dollars a month. "Ten dollars? Let me send you over to our payment associates. They'll set you up with a payment plan for ten dollars a month."

I was shocked that they would accept such a pittance against my bill. But, they did.

So I've been paying ten dollars a month and that's all I'm going to pay them. I think it's ridiculous that they waited for so long to get things worked out. And yes, I know, it can take that long to deal with insurance companies. I get that. But I don't think that I should be required to put more debt onto my credit cards because I failed to budget for something that should have been taken care of.

It's a matter of principle to me.

It's also the reason why I will always choose an HMO from now on, at least until I have a really big reason not to.

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