By Rachel Bluth / August 30, 2019
Wolfgang Balzer, an engineer, knew for several years he had a hernia that would need to be repaired, but it wasn’t an emergency, so he waited until the time was right.
The opportunity came in 2018 after his wife, Farren, had given birth to their second child in February. The couple had met their deductible early in the year and figured that would minimize out-of-pocket payments for Wolfgang’s surgery.
Before scheduling it, he called the hospital, the surgeon and the anesthesiologist to get estimates for how much the procedure would cost.
“We tried our best to weigh out our plan and figure out what the numbers were,” Wolfgang said.
The hospital told him that the normal billed rate was $10,333.16 but that Cigna, his insurer, had negotiated a discount to $6,995.56, meaning his 20% patient share would be $1,399.11. The surgeon’s office quoted a normal rate of $1,675, but the Cigna discounted rate was just $469, meaning his copayment would be about $94. (Although the Balzers made four calls to the anesthesiologist’s office to get a quote, leaving voicemail, no one returned their calls.)
Estimates in hand, they budgeted for the money they would have to pay. Wolfgang proceeded with the surgery in November, and, medically, it went according to plan.
Then the bill came.
The Patient: Wolfgang Balzer, 40, an engineer in Wethersfield, Conn. Through his job, he is insured by Cigna.
Total Bill: The estimates the Balzers had painstakingly obtained were wildly off. The hospital’s bill was $16,314. After the insurer’s contracted discount was applied, the bill fell to $10,552, still 51% over the initial estimate. The contracted rate for the surgeon’s fee was $968, more than double the estimate. After Cigna’s payments, the Balzers were billed $2,304.51, much more than they’d budgeted for.
Service Provider: Hartford Hospital, operated by Hartford HealthCare
Medical Procedure: Bilateral inguinal hernia repair
What Gives: “This is ending up costing us $800 more,” said Farren, 36. “For two working people with two children and full-time day care, that’s a huge hit.”
When the bill came on Christmas Eve, the Balzers called around, trying to figure out what went wrong with the initial estimate, only to get bounced from the hospital’s billing office to patient accounts and finally ending up speaking with the hospital’s “Integrity Department.”
They were told “a quote is only a quote and doesn’t take into consideration complications.” The Balzers pointed out there had been no complications in the outpatient procedure; Wolfgang went home the same day, a few hours after he woke up.
The couple appealed the bill. They called their insurer. They waited for collection notices to roll in.
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