Hank Investigates: Medical Bills - WHDH-TV 7News Boston

Hank Investigates: Medical Bills

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In the market for a house? Of course you look for the best deal. You'd always scout for the lowest price on a car, and everyone comparison shops for bargains on furniture, clothing, even at the grocery.

But Terry's medical bills prove -- the next time your doctor orders a test, you might also want to shop around for a better price!

Hank

“Did the cost of this ever cross your mind?

Terry

“No, not until I got the bill.”

Terry’s doctor had ordered a blood test and whatever the cost Terry would have to pay it himself. He's insured, but has a $1500 deductible. And then he saw the charge: More than $600 dollars.

Terry

"I said this is crazy, then I picked up the phone and called the bill department and said I need an itemized bill."

This is what arrived, and here's why that made Terry even angrier.

His doctor had ordered a test called a comprehensive metabolic panel, a CMP. It's one very standard blood test that automatically tests for 14 different things. Every independent lab we called or clicked performs the CMP as one test. And, we found, it costs around $50.

But the hospital lab Terry's doctor used had billed for the CMP as if it were not one, but fourteen separate tests. And that boosted the cost to $658.

Hank

“And what did you think about that?”

Terry

“I was outraged.”

Terry called the hospital lab to complain--and was told his bill was not a mistake.

Terry

“They said that bill by individual tests.”

Hank:

“And when you said why?”

Terry

“They said that's just the way they do it.”

The CMP is such a common test--Medicare paid for twenty-five million of them in 2008. Each and every time, they paid for it as one test.

But health care experts say -- when patients are paying out of pocket -- the charges can skyrocket.

Hank

“What do you think about his bill?"

Professor Alan Sager/BU School of Public Health

“I think it’s outrageous. I think that the hospital is trying to maximize revenue by squeezing an essentially defenseless patient."

Why is Terry's hospital billing him for 14 separate tests? Officials told us "we can't give you any information."

But for patients worried about health care costs, we found a there's a surprising way around this big-bucks billing.

When Terry complained to his doctor, the doctor simply wrote Terry this prescription.

For his next CMP. Terry can just take that prescription to whatever lab he chooses and he knows, the bottom line for that test will be around, $50, not more than $600.

But he still wonders how many patients get a hospital bill like this -- without even questioning the charges.

Terry

"If they are following billing practices that they are following with me, then there are lot of other people who are paying too much money."

So if you're paying out of pocket for medical expenses--whether it’s a deductible, or a procedure your insurance doesn't cover experts say, don't just accept the cost: Shop around before you pay more than you need to.

(Copyright (c) 2010 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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