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How to avoid paying high medical bills

Suresh Sadagopan |

Updated: June 16, 2009, 3:35 PM IST
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How to avoid paying high medical bills
Hospitals take away a huge amount from people.

We are all born equal, right? Some of us, it would appear, are first among equals, in a pervertedly lopsided way.

If you happen to be unfortunate enough to step into a hospital and fortunate enough to afford a deluxe room, you should know and be prepared to pay much higher charges for every service that you avail, not just the room rent.

Any medical procedures performed, services availed, doctor's fees, operating theatre charges etc., will be considerably higher than in the lower category rooms or general ward. So why's no one protesting? The people in the profession won't.

Doctors don't mind getting higher fees for the same work. They worked hard to clear their medicine course, remember? And the hospitals need the extra oil to treat the free patients, you know? Rob Peter to pay Paul. We are socialists and we idolise Robinhood, don't we?

Health insurance means inflated bills

The unsavoury aspect does not end there. Hospitals can inflate the bills too, so that, it is advantageous to them. Last year, a relative of mine got admitted for a heart related problem in a Chennai Hospital.

She was initially in the intensive care unit (ICU) and then was shifted to the regular ward. She had taken an air conditioned room. Since she was in the hospital for five to six days and was mostly under observation, the charges came to under Rs 40,000. But the problem surfaced when she put in a claim.

A huge percentage of the per-day expenses were put under the head of 'food'. It was not some gourmet food that the hospital dished out. The food, it seems, was so bad that it was barely palatable. It was sourced from a hotel nearby.

Apparently, the hospital saves on service tax when it reduces the charges on it's services and builds it in food instead, we learnt later. But the insurance company excluded all food expenses and settled only the balance claim. Even later, when this was drawn to the hospital's attention they nonchalantly dismissed it as their 'regular' way of billing. This is not an isolated instance.

Recently, another relative of mine was admitted in ICU. When there, the doctor's kept asking for medicines at regular intervals. We were supposed to be replenishing the medicines that they were administering from their store. But we did not again get a proper documentation on how many medicines were used. These things go on in good faith. But these medicines cost about Rs 8,000, in this case. Just one injection among them cost Rs 3,000.
Consumer beware
The medical profession is based on complete faith of the patient in the doctor. The doctors have a fiduciary responsibility as the patient depends on their judgement, completely. In such cases, the responsibility increases.

Hence, it is imperative that there is a stringent legislation for the medical profession and provision for a proper recourse for the patients. Currently, there is none and patients are at the mercy of doctors and hospitals.

When there is a patient in the hospital, the last thing on the relatives mind is to question the doctor or hospital, on the charges. However, that needs to be done.

For it has a direct implication whether one has medical insurance or not. If one has medical insurance, higher charges would reduce the amount available for any further treatments. If not, then one is anyway directly bearing the higher expenses.

How can you protect yourself?
1. Firstly, ask around for hospitals, doctors there, charges, facilities etc. in their vicinity, before you avail the services.

2. Secondly, after narrowing down, approach the hospital and find out from them about the charges (approximate figures or at least the range) for various procedures and find how and by how much the charges could be minimised.

If you ask this question, you will get an idea of how much the bill will be, if you admit yourself in various categories of accommodation. Also, in general, trust hospitals tend to charge less than the corporate hospitals. If the trust hospital has the appropriate facilities for the intervention under question, it would be a better option.

3. Thirdly, after all this, if there is over charging, bring it to the notice of the management. If that does not work, bring it to the notice of local health authorities. Taking this up with the insurance companies is also a good idea because they will investigate such practices thoroughly, as they are directly affected. Finally, in case of a serious breach, consider consumer courts.

There are several problems in medical service delivery, as it stands. Legislation needs to catch up in this vital area, which affects each and every citizen. But till then, the consumer must beware.

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First Published: June 16, 2009, 3:35 PM IST
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