Today was the day I had designated for making a few extremely dreaded phone calls…making payment arrangements for three VERY large bills from our daughter’s gall bladder surgery and subsequent ER visit ten days later.
The Husband and I had carefully studied all the “Not A Bill” statements from our insurance company and compared them to the bills we’d received. It all seemed to be in order, so there was nothing left to do but throw ourselves at the mercy of the billing offices and try to come up with a payment plan.
With a short and relatively pleasant phone call, I got the first one, the “physician’s fee,” broken up into monthly payments of $50. Do-able. Feeling encouraged – or perhaps shocked would be more accurate, as phone calls about medical bills rarely end satisfactorily – I moved on to the call about the hospital fees for the surgery and the ER visit.
The billing representative I spoke to was soft-spoken and sympathetic. She tried spreading payments over 8 months and asked how those amounts would work for us. Since she asked, I told her the truth. The amounts she quoted, added to the monthly payment for the physicians fee, would force us to decide between paying either our mortgage or our utility bills each month. Not good. So she tried spreading them out over longer time. Still too much.
This wonderful woman then asked, “Would you like to see if you qualify for financial assistance?”
I hesitated. “Gosh, I don’t know. Do you think we might?”
“Well, you never know,” she said. “What is your gross monthly income?”
Since The Husband recently changed careers, I had to think about that one. I gave her a rough estimate, and then double-checked a detail. “I’m sorry I’m such a dolt, but I can never remember which one is net and which one is gross.” She kindly informed me of the difference.
“And what do you do for a living?” she then asked.
“I work for a church,” I said. “I’m the Director of Children’s Ministry.”
“Okay…just let me do a little figuring.” I puzzled over her question as I heard her punching numbers into a calculator. She hadn’t asked what The Husband’s job was. And I knew for a fact that when Middle Sister registered for surgery, one of the many questions was about her parents’ employment…so I think this gal knew where I worked when she asked the question.
The next words I heard were magic. “I can’t do anything with the bill for day of surgery. But I can get the larger one, the ER bill, down to $150.”
I didn’t say a word for a moment. The original number on this bill was
$1, 269. Finally some words came out. “You have got to be kidding me.”
I could hear the smile in her voice. “No, ma’am.”
“Seriously? $150 total?”
(Through tears): “You realize you’re my new best friend?”
She laughed softly. “That second number is a little better, isn’t it?”
“Oh, my goodness,” I said. “You’re making me cry. I’m so thankful.”
“Well,” she joked, “maybe you can just add me to your prayers tonight.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
We finished up the arrangements and I said goodbye, with one more, heart-felt “thank you.”
I realize it wasn’t in this woman’s personal power to grant us financial assistance. There’s something in the hospital’s policy – it is, after all, a religious-based hospital. Perhaps they offer financial assistance to anyone working in ministry. But my new friend’s kindness coupled with the complete shock of – for the first time EVER – having a medical bill be made affordable, completely knocked me for a loop.
Bottom line, the coming months of payments are still going to add up to an uncomfortable chunk of our monthly income. But we can manage it.
And that, my friends, is an enormous miracle in the insane medical system here in the good old U.S. of A.