“I don’t understand my health care bills.”
This is a perfectly reasonable concern that comes to us from patients, lawmakers and even our own friends and family members. Working their way down line items on seemingly impenetrable bills, patients spend hours Googling CPT codes, trying to make sense of services and costs. They ask, “Why do they make it so hard for consumers to understand?”
It’s not intentional. The vast majority of medical bills are paid by insurance companies (including Medicare and Medicaid), who need a coding system. CPT stands for current procedural terminology, which is a nationally set shorthand that doctors, hospitals and insurers use to report the services given to an individual patient. Medical care is complex, and there are around 8,000 CPT codes being used today.
But health care is changing, and patients are finding themselves more often in the role of consumer. More high-deductible plans are making consumers responsible for controlling their own health care costs. From the individuals’ point of view, it feels like suddenly being told to fix your own car.
Most people cannot fix their own cars, or speak the language of CPT codes. But there are things we can do. Three key premises apply to both cars and bodies:
- Good maintenance keeps costs down over time
- Look at both cost and quality when you need a professional
- Understand your insurance coverage.
Providing care to Washington State residents, regardless of ability to pay, is central to the missions of hospitals. To learn more about how hospitals work to help patients understand their bills, anticipate what health services might cost and get the financial assistance they need, visit our webpage.
Mary Kay Clunies-Ross
Vice President, Membership and Communications