BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Michelle King went in for a doctor’s appointment back in December to get some help and a cortisone shot for arthritis pain, and when she asked if the $25 knee brace she had bought at a drugstore was okay, “The lady just pulled one out of a silver package and said ‘Here try this on,’ and I did and it fit fine, and I said ‘Is this gonna be covered by my insurance?’ and they said, ‘Yeah it’s usually covered by insurance so don’t worry about it,’ ” King recalls.
“I got the bill yesterday and there’s a $760 charge for this knee brace, and I was just floored by it.”
Michelle called her doctor’s office and at first they said they were sorry but couldn’t do anything about the cost. Then after she told them she didn’t think this was right and might need to call WBRC FOX6 News On Your Side, they called back to offer her a chance to return the brace, no charge.
“Just going in for arthritis pain and getting a cortisone shot and walking out with a $700 knee brace is just absurd in my mind,” King says. “I think consumers need to know about this.”
A new federal rule that just took effect January 1 requires hospitals to provide clear pricing lists online of their services that you can shop ahead of time, but that might not have helped Michelle, even if she’d known to ask.
“For the patient who wants to know the information it’s something that’s good to put in their toolbox,” says Ellen Abish, President of Health Advocate Services. “But it’s only a small part of what they need to be good healthcare consumers.”
Michelle works in the mortgage industry and says you should treat your medical appointments like a bank visit, ask plenty of questions and don’t be intimidated.
“I go to the grocery store and stress out about which kind of paper towels to buy. And here we’re talking about major amounts of money that go in and out of the healthcare industry, that really could bankrupt people. Had I had to come up with that, they might work with payments and stuff, but that was an unnecessary item that was sold to me. And that’s the part that really bothers me.”
Consumer advocates say always ask if your insurance company covers a service or equipment before saying yes to it. Michelle did that, but she asked the intern working on her therapy, she didn’t ask the billing department to actually confirm that first, something she says she will always do in the future.