The birth of Toddler BITA nearly three years ago left me with an umbilical hernia. On the 26th of January my hernia took issue with a section of my intestine and attempted to strangle it to death. This is the story of that ghastly attempted murder, and of the baffling bills that followed. I might rant. I intend to try not to, but I make no promises.
The Attempted Assassination
I started to get cold and clammy (a.k.a going into shock). The bulging section in the area of my umbilicus where my hernia was attempting to assassinate my intestine started to turn blue. Mr. BITA was about 45 minutes away at work, and my mother, who was visiting at the time, decided to call 911. Soon we had paramedics and firemen swarming around our living room. They attempted to get an IV started to administer some morphine but were unable to get a vein. Eventually they popped me into the ambulance and away I went on my first ever ambulance ride.
Mr. BITA met me in the ER, where I lay shivering uncontrollably. I threw up more than once. It took five attempts by three different people before they managed to find a vein and get some blessed painkillers into me. Two hours later I was in surgery. The brave surgical team rescued most of my intestine from the villainous clutches of my hernia. Four inches had to be sacrificed for the greater good. They also stitched up the hernia, and with any luck, it will never bother anybody ever again.
I spent the night in the hospital, and was discharged just after lunch the next day, with a prescription for painkillers. I was on a liquid diet for one week. I lay about at home being pampered by my mother and my husband. My toddler was not impressed by my inability to carry her for over six weeks. She did very much enjoy looking at my scars though, and frequently asked for an audience with my abdomen.
Time passed. I healed.
Then the crazy medical bills started to trickle in. Oh boy.
The Cost of the Ambulance Ride
The first part of my medical adventure cost $2,226.43.
The hospital the ambulance took me to is 2.4 miles from my house. They appear to have rounded that up to 3 and charged $50/mile. As I mentioned above they attempted to get a vein. They did not succeed. Nevertheless, I had to pay for all the supplies that were used. So be it.
I did as directed, filled out my insurance information, and returned the bill to them with a copy of my insurance card. Three weeks later they sent me the same bill again. Mr. BITA called them and they said that they did not have a relationship with my insurance company. “We are not contracted with your insurance company”, they said. They had forwarded my bill to my insurance, but had no idea what if anything would come of that, had no way of tracking it and they considered us on the hook for the entire amount. Mr. BITA then called our insurance company. They assured us that they would be paying the lion’s share of the bill, but not to the ambulance company. We needed to pay the ambulance folks the $2,226.43 and they would send us a cheque for whatever they covered.
We did as we were told. Eventually we received a cheque for $2,003.78 from our insurance company. My initial reaction was one of relief. We only had to pay $222.65. Then I read the explanation of why I had to pay $222.65 and the artery in my head started to throb warningly.
The ambulance provider was out-of-network and I was charged accordingly.
The fucking ambulance that shows up in response to a 911 call is out of fucking network. I had no choice in the matter. There isn’t another emergency number I can call. When I called 911 they didn’t offer me a menu of ambulance services to choose from. How can an essential service, and one with a sum total of zero choices, be out of network? What the everloving fuck?
Bills from the Doctors
The next couple of bills to trickle in were the charges of the various doctors who had cared for me that day.
In some cases caring is perhaps overstating it just a tad.
Take this bill. The ER doctor charged us $667.
Why Mrs. BITA, you say, I am surprised at you. Why do you begrudge this poor doctor his slice of the cake? I’ll tell you why. The ER nursing staff were heroes. The ER doctor, on the other hand, not so much. He popped his head around my curtain and said, “Could you lift up your gown please?” I did. He was standing about three feet away from me. “I’ll call in the surgeon”. Then he left and was never seen nor heard from again. He spent about 30 seconds three feet away from me. He never touched me. And for this he charges $667? What a fucking joke. I take small comfort in the fact that he didn’t get the whole $667. Insurance only coughed up $407.42 and we paid $45.27. I still think he was grossly overpaid.
The next bill was from the anesthesiologist. We were charged $2,394.
I don’t begrudge him a dollar. He had an excellent bedside manner and knocked me out most successfully. That isn’t the whole story though. I did not react well to the drugs, and I came out of anesthesia fighting. My first hazy memory as I swam into consciousness is of hitting the anesthetist as he tried to hold me still. Once I was fully awake I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole. I apologized profusely and he brushed off the whole incident saying that this “happened all the time”. Yep, he earned his money. After insurance did their bit, we are on the hook for $149.37.
The Hospital and Insurance Play Numberwang
We then received a bill from the hospital for $6,712.
The back of the bill was blank because of course, it is completely normal to charge someone nearly $7,000 for something and to neglect to itemize or explain what the fuck the charges include or how you came up with the magical figure of $6,712. Mr. BITA got on the phone again and asked for an itemized bill.
We received a four page bill a few days later. The first three pages are filled with tiny print and are chock full of illuminating nuggets such as
27B162 0718 454610 1 SET PRIM INFS PORT 22M $148.00 and
27B162 0718 454607 1 SET ADM IV MX+MNBR 40I $28.00
Thank you very fucking much. This is exactly what I had in mind when I asked for an explanation of the bill. Everything is as clear as mud now.
This is page four of the detailed bill.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a bill for $152,313. My artery started its rhythmic pounding again.
A few days later we receive this explanation of benefits from our insurance provider. The dictionary says that an explanation is a “statement or account that makes something clear”. I would say this would more accurately be described as an obfuscation of benefits.
If you think those numbers don’t add up, you’re not alone. $134,337 just disappeared and was never heard from again. Here is some more funky math from page 3 of the explanation obfuscation.
Why, thank you. That cleared it right up. Obviously $82,407 – $0 = $0 in the alternate universe where the rules of numberwang mathematics apply.
And are you curious about the over $82,000 worth of sterile supplies for my laproscopic surgery? Well, sucks to be you. You, and I, are shit out of luck. We’ll have to take our curiosity to our graves. Maybe they removed all my organs and replaced them with sterile supplies? Maybe sterile supplies is code name for a top secret biomechatronic body part and I’m now actually a cyborg? One can only speculate.
We have emerged from our medical emergency relatively unscathed, both in body and in pocket. Our out of pocket expenses total $3,379.39 and we have suffered no long lasting damage other than the strong urge to smack someone hard upside the head. We have an HSA. We will not be raiding it to pay these bills. We will pay out of pocket, let our HSA grow unmolested, and file away the insanity to claim at a later time. I can’t wait to pull these bills out twenty years from now to claim from my HSA and get my artery going all over again.