It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You can still get blindsided by medical costs and devastating bills.
The latest horror story posted by Costs of Care, a local non-profit running a contest for the best essays on costs of medical care, is here. It comes from an incredibly articulate grad student named Brad Wright, who came down with a sinus infection. He knew his health insurance coverage was lousy, and was savvy enough to ask about costs before following the doctor’s orders — but to little avail:
The sinus CT would cost roughly $900, which I could not afford. I headed instead to the lab to get my blood drawn, not knowing that I was about to make a costly mistake.
I worked as a phlebotomist during college, so I knew that lab tests were expensive, but that most insurers negotiated discounted rates that were only a fraction of the sticker price. Besides, the lab work was routine—a comprehensive metabolic panel and complete blood count—so I didn’t think to ask how much it would cost. My mistake was assuming that the lab was in-network, because the in-network internist I had just seen worked in the same building and referred me to the lab.
A month later, the bad news came in the mail. The lab was out-of-network, and I owed $478. While this wasn’t the five-figure medical bill many families face, everything is relative. For me, a graduate student living almost entirely on borrowed money, the bill changed how I bought groceries, socialized with friends, and commuted to school. For six months, I fought to scrape together enough money to make monthly payments.