Saturday, January 22, 2011

Split Check

In the midst of this imposed quarantine at work, checking the mail got old fast. I'd been in the hospital for six days and the bills just kept coming. It wasn't quite clear to me why everyone billed me separately: there was the hospital internists, the EMT bill, the hospital bill, the neurosurgeon's bill, the co-neurosurgeon's bill, etc. Why were they all separate when I'd been in one place the whole time? This made me want to start a new restaurant where I would call it Split Check. Only doctors would be allowed to eat there and they would get one bill from the waiter, one bill from cook, one from the manager, one from the janitor and each one would have very specific but obscure descriptions of why they had earned this money.

In my continued efforts to always be an optimists, my friends and I looked through the bills if for nothing else for amusement. There was that "Rad Arrow Art Set" $128, the "Adult Sensor" for $168, the "Airway Oral" for $13 (a real bargain for oral one of my friend scommented), the Urine Meter with the 16 foot fold for $126 and the finger probe for $180. These were just a few of the vague but amusing descriptions that made me realize I'd had a much better time at the hospital than I remembered. But they didn't even let me bring home any of my rad art pieces.

I'm sure it's standard practice in the hospital billing profession to do this but each of these bills was a fair chunk of change, the smallest being $1000 and the largest being over $70,000. Each of them came with some form of a caveat: This is not a bill. We have sent this to your insurance. You will be reponsible for any parts that they do not pay." Now in grand total the first round of bills was over $100,000. Of course, once insurance would kick in and my maximum out of pocket was paid out this was going to be dramatically reduced. But, I learned some things quickly. 1) Just because you're young and healthy doesn't mean that you should skip signing up for short or long term disability (after a major disease you don't have the option). 2) Just because you've never called in sick doesn't mean you should take the least amount of coverage possible. 3) Maximum out-of-pocket is a myth. The number of things that don't apply to out of pocket is almost enough to make the concept absurd. 4) If you're going to have major medical problems, make them near the beginning not the end of your insurance fiscal year (mine was the calendar year so starting to have issues November 5th was very poor planning on my part). Anyway, the way the bills come in if you didn't already have health problems could well cause a heart attack.

My grandpa always used to say if it's about money, don't worry we don't have any. I started relating to the fast. I had saved up almost $10,000 over time for an emergency rainy day. That started feeling...inadequate. I had always managed the finances for our family;  my wife knew there was always consistent finances and that we were relatively sound. For the first time in my adult life, I started panicking financially. A couple of friends pointed out that it was silly that I was more worried about the bills than I was about some of the health stuff but I'd grown up poor and didn't want my daughter to ever experience that. There was a point where looking at the bills I seriously considered finding a way to pay all those and finding another job or two and never following up. I finally realized that that may well be stupid both in the short and long run so I went back to my split check and tried to come up with a smarter plan but this was a restaurant where I definitely wasn't leaving a tip.

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