Hospital Bills-Shock & Awe!

Karen Curtiss is the founder of CampaignZERO: Families for Patient Safety, and author of Safe & Sound in the Hospital: Must-Have Checklists and Tools. Both resources share “insider tips” about what to say and do to get safe hospital care. Now, she joins Peer Health as the Patient Safety Advisor.

After a hospital stay, bills will start pouring in, and trust me, they will be shocking. Even with good insurance, it may still be an “ouch.” Most hospital costs are out of our control, but where you do have control is making sure your prescriptions hospital-billsand medical providers are covered by your insurance policy.

Question Your Prescriptions

Before you leave the hospital, doctors will often start “stabilizing on the meds,” which means they give you the drugs they’ll want you to take at home, but watch you carefully to make sure they work for you.

But what if your insurance doesn’t cover them ?

  • For each drug, ask: Will you write a prescription to take this at home?
  • If yes, ask the hospital’s social worker, case manager, and/or a friend or family member to check if it’s covered by your policy.
  • If not, ask if there is a similar drug, or generic, that is covered.
      • If so, share this with your doctors and nurses.
      • Ask if the drug manufacturer has any special programs or discounts for patients. This might take some extra work, but it’s worth asking.

It pays, to be frank about cost concerns – no one wants your health to go downhill or for you to suffer a return trip to the hospital because you can’t afford your medications.

Doctor Charges

Little known fact: many doctors and other medical professionals (like physical therapists) work in hospitals as independent contractors. These “independents” may not take your insurance even though the hospital does.

So…. for every new medical provider you see, ask: “Do you take my insurance?” If not, it’s OK to ask for someone else.

These are tough conversations to have as a patient, dealing with illness. This is why you should have someone with you, a family member or friend. Let them manage these details so you can focus on getting better!

Incorrect Billing

First of all, if you have questions about your bill, don’t hesitate to call the hospital.

I’ve often heard, “Oh it doesn’t matter if there’s a mistake — insurance is taking care of everything.” Overcharges add up, and we all pay higher insurance rates as a result. If you see a big error, like a misdiagnosis, be sure to get the correct bill.


  • For charges not covered by insurance, appeal to your carrier to reconsider. However, before calling, ask the hospital advocate to call for you. They ‘speak the same language’.
    • In cases where doctors (and others) who see you in the hospital don’t take your insurance, ask your carrier to make the payment anyway. Get the hospital billing office or advocate to go to bat for you — they see this all the time and can help you get results.
  • Report errors in your hospital bill in writing. The hospital cannot press for payment of any charges you dispute while they investigate.
    • If necessary, send copies of your bills and letters describing the errors to the hospital advocate and insurance company case manager.

About 25% of bankruptcies in the US stem from medical bills. It’s worth knowing what your hospital care costs, and your share of it. Believe it or not, costs vary for every kind of surgery. We are entering a new age of consumerism in health care, so dare to compare and spend wisely!

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