INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - As a wife and mom of young children, Amber Stanley keeps her family on a tight budget. So, she was floored when she received four medical bills totaling nearly $4,000 after her husband had to visit the emergency room.
In March, her husband had trouble breathing.
"And that's not something you want to mess around with," Stanley said.
A nurse at a 24-hour nursing line told them to go to the emergency room. He's fine now, but the bills that came in from that visit to the ER and other tests took their breath away again.
"Because it was an amount I simply couldn't pay at that moment, I was prompted to call," she said.
She called the hospital and their insurance company and she's glad she did.
She learned from her insurance company one of the charges was a mistake and should actually be much less.
"It was simply a discount code they had forgotten to apply," she said.
That instantly saved her hundreds.
Then she learned that the most expensive bill from the hospital wasn't categorized as an actual emergency visit. Because of that, their out-of-pocket expenses were much higher.
After a phone call to the hospital, Stanley submitted more information to the insurance company. She's still waiting to see if they'll reconsider the claim.
The problems the Stanley's encountered are common.
According to Medical Billing Advocates of America, as many as eight in ten medical bills contain some sort of mistake.
"It happens too often," said Jared Ferguson, who founded Patient Advocacy of Indiana.
"What the unfortunate circumstances are - especially with the aging population - is they would've paid that bill," he said.
"I consider myself to be a capable person and yet I wonder how many medical bills I paid simply because I thought I was supposed to," said Stanley.
Ferguson is a part of a growing industry that helps patients deal with these type and frequency of mistakes.
There are several things you can do even before treatment.
Even though hospitals don't have a menu of services with prices attached, there are ways you can find out the "real" cost of the procedure or treatment.
If you can find out before your procedure, try to find out the billing codes the doctor or hospital expects to provide to insurance. And understand the language that health care providers are using.
You can also try to negotiate for a better price or get a discounted rate. You can also try to negotiate after you get your bills.
When you do get your bills, Ferguson says it's important to compare your bill to your insurance statement. If something doesn't match or look right, call the provider and your insurance company. Make sure they are on the same page.
You can also get professional help. Just know that it might cost you. Most companies charge by the hour or a percentage of what you save.
Also, don't use a credit card if you can help it. Experts say paying with plastic limits your negotiating power.
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