I was sitting in my apartment a few months ago when my phone began to ring. Since only a few people actually know my home phone number, I figured it was something important until I looked at the caller ID. I recognized that the number belonged to a bill collector. There was only one problem–all my bills were paid on time.
I answered the phone with the intention of explaining to the bill collector that they obviously had been given the wrong number. It has happened several times. Whoever had this phone number before me must have changed their number for the purpose of getting away from bill collectors. However, when I answered the phone, the bill collector actually had my name. I was confused.
As the conversation proceeded, the bill collector told me that this was about a medical debt. In talking to her, I figured out that one of the specialists I see a few times per year had written down my address and my insurance information wrong. As a result, they were never able to send me any bills, which led to them assuming that I had merely been dodging their payment. The bill collector seemed understanding though she suggested that I pay the debt by phone anyway and then straighten things up with my physician. I reluctantly agreed.
Within 5 minutes, I was on the phone with my physician’s billing office fixing my address and my insurance information. It was all good until I informed the woman that I had just paid the collection agency by phone.
“Why did you do that?” she asked in a very concerned voice.
“I thought that was the best way to fix this situation.” I replied.
“No,” she said kindly, “You should have given me a chance to bill your insurance now that I have the right information. You need to call them back and get them to cancel your phone payment.”
A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with the collections agency attempting to cancel my phone payment. I talked to a different woman this time whose response was much less helpful.
“We can’t cancel your payment,” she said rather bluntly, “You’ll have to do that through your bank.”
$30 later, the stop payment was posted to my account. Within a few days, my insurance had sent out proof of payment. I had assumed that this would be the end of the story, but for the past two months, I have still been receiving calls from the same collections agency about the same debt. The calls have been going something like this.
“I took care of this over a month ago directly with the physician’s office,” I said.
“We have record of a payment in our system, but it came back as insufficient funds,” the debt collector replies sarcastically.
“That wasn’t an insufficient funds notice,” I replied indignantly, “I placed a stop payment on the [check by] phone payment after I realized my insurance had never been billed. It is paid now, I even have a copy of the EOB to prove it.”
“Then fax it to us,” the debt collector responded.
Of course I refused. I figured it was the billing office’s responsibility to notify the collections agency that the debt had been paid. The physician’s billing office claims to be taking care of the issue. I’ll know for sure when the debt collection calls stop.
I wish I could say this is the only problem I have ever had with insurance billing, but it is not. Transferring to Rutgers meant switching to the university’s preferred insurance plan. Unfortunately, every time I have a doctor’s appointment, the patient registrars seem to have issues with my billing. Sometimes, they accuse me of not having insurance. Other times, they ask me of my insurance has lapsed. I’m pretty sure that much of the fault lies in the way the insurance company operates.
Although I often complain about my billing troubles, which I see are pretty common these days, I am still thankful for my health insurance coverage. I was relaying my situation to a good friend of mine who ended up talking to me about his high amount of medical bills after an emergency room visit for a severe fever. He doesn’t have health insurance. Needless to say, that put a lot of things in perspective for me (and reminded me of why I actually supported the theory behind the Affordable Care Act).
Billing issues may be annoying, but once they are straightened out, I only have to pay my copay. Uninsured people don’t have that luxury. In the end, being annoyed by a debt collector calling over a debt that has already been paid is much better than being frightened by a debt collector calling over a legitimate medical debt. Therefore, the next time I get a troublesome collections call or receive an erroneous bill in the mail for a medical debt, I will try to smile and remember that my situation could be a lot worse.