My kids go to the FUN KIDS DENTIST. That’s what they’re called. They have a palm tree on their sign and fish in the waiting room. They deal really well with Jesse’s anxiety and Nick’s crazy. They have a dentist who’s also an orthodontist, which is really awesome because one-stop-shop.
They also embody everything that stinks about medical billing. The first time I went there with Jesse last year, the receptionist who checked me out told me that they had contacted my insurer already and there would be no coverage for her cleaning because we were having it done 2 weeks earlier than insurance allowed. It was a couple hundred bucks, which wouldn’t break my budget that month, so I shrugged and paid it. But to put it in perspective, that’s enough money to feed my family for a week.
A few weeks later I got a notice from our dental insurer. It had paid the bill two weeks earlier. That was news to me. I called The Fun People. Among other things, I said, did your office staff lie to me about checking with our insurer?
I admit that I was adversarial and combative. But I was irritated. I don’t like being dicked with. The nice lady on the phone said so-sorry and quickly (as in, didn’t skip a nano-second beat) told me that no-no-no-insurer-said-no-coverage.
Ri-i-i-ight. Because she would remember that off the top of her head. She assured me I would get a refund.
A few weeks later I thought about it. No refund yet. I called them back. So-sorry-so-sorry, our accountant was on vacation back when you called and we surely left her a message, but she must have forgotten. I asked if I needed to inform the insurer that they had double-billed me and lied to me about the lack of coverage. I received a refund check in the mail two days later.
* * *
Jesse had some orthodontic work done over the summer. As with all things Jesse, there’s nothing terribly wrong, but her teeth just aren’t exactly plumb-square-level and her baby teeth seem to be rotting out. We’re on it. I got a call from a Fun Lady some time in August. “I’m calling to remind you that you have a bill due in the amount of $—.” It was somewhere in the couple-hundred dollar range. I was surprised to be getting a dunning call. I like my excellent credit rating, and I act accordingly. I felt a little bad, but it was summer and our life gets a little out of control.
“Have you sent me a bill?” I asked. “I don’t remember getting one.”
“Yes,” she answered briskly, still talking in a tone that informed me I was a hose-bag deadbeat.
“When did you send it?”
There was a brief pause and then a confident, cheerful response. “We did mail it to you… It should be arriving in your mail today. Would you like to pay with a credit card today?”
Four years of behavior modification therapy with Jesse kicked in, like magic. In a past life, I would have had a very significant, very long hissy fit all over The Fun Billing Lady. I would have done everything in my power to ruin her day, or even better her week, at extremely high volume. But in this story, I was calm, on the outside at least. I took several deep breaths. I spoke slowly, using every last bit of self-control to not rage out at this voice on the phone. “When I actually receive a bill, I will review it and decide if it’s accurate, and also if I determine that you’re not double-billing me, I’ll pay it. But no, I won’t pay you with a credit card before I actually see an actual bill.”
There was another brief pause, followed by a chirpy “thank you” and a figurative la la la as The Fun Lady ended the call.
* * *
Today I received a bill for a cleaning last month. Look at what they’ve done.
The bill shows $148 in charges for services. The last line on the itemized list says “Claim to [DT15] for 148.00.” I don’t actually know what “DT15″ is, but I can guess that it’s my insurer. Then look at the bottom. It shows my ‘PLEASE PAY” balance due as $148. Notably absent is a number in the row called “INSURANCE OUTSTANDING.” It should say “148.00.” As in, I don’t owe the dentist a penny.
That’s not a small omission. In my opinion, its only purpose is to obtain a double payment, from both me and the insurer. And then, as happened before, they’ll forget to refund me.
I hate this sort of shit. It takes me right past grumpy to irate. Good thing therapy is still working for me. I took a few deep breaths and shook my head, and then I threw the bill away.