Butting heads with bureaucracy

I’ve been battling the local hospital lately. It’s a long and boring story, but suffice it to say I was enrolled in a low-income assistance program and was removed from the program without my knowledge, meaning that I owe $1500 of a $1500 bill instead of the $300 I paid.

Trying to navigate the bureaucracy of the hospital is no small feat. My man Jim has been quite proactive in working with them to make sure his own bills are paid off, yet he constantly gets threatening “LAST NOTICE” letters despite his having arranged to pay his bills on a monthly payment plan. In any given conversation, the person he speaks with seems to know nothing of the arrangements he made previously with other workers, and he’s given yet another lengthy list of instructions to follow.

I like to think I’m pretty good at staying on top of my bills, too. When paying for the August 2010 migraine ER visit that put me in this situation, I included a cover letter citing my low income assistance status, explaining why I was only paying 20% of the total bill. Many moons and many frustrating phone calls, letters, and emails later, I ended up crying in defeat while at the billing office—this seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and convinced the bills representative to reclaim my account after having referred it to a collections agency (which still another rep said would NOT happen to me).

This particular situation has now taken up hours of my life as well as valuable brain space. I worry about it relatively often, and I make sure to stay on top of any developments as I continually make my case. I am a lower middle-class, well-educated 30-something. What do really young or really old patients do when faced with these hurdles? What do people with limited English and/or limited literacy skills do in similar situations?

As someone who has periodic bouts of severe migraine, it’s hard to know what battles to pick. As I walked away from the hospital billing office, tears in my eyes and $1200 less rich, I thought about how much of my free time I’ve spent dealing with this. Think of all the healthy, non-migraine hours I could have spent on things more fulfilling than butting heads with bureaucracy!

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