Flustered couple fighting a medical bill

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I fought and saved money. But I also paid some money just to move on with my life.

Several years ago, I underwent a surgery that racked up a $3,500 bill after insurance payments. Despite that expense, the surgery failed to correct what was wrong — and instead, made it worse.

While I haggled with both the surgeon and the hospital about the unfairness of being force to pay for an unsatisfactory surgery, I went to a new surgeon who fixed the initial problem with another surgery a few months later. By then, I had another $2,500 deductible to meet.

I paid the bills for that surgery and the first doctor’s private bill. However, I still owed $2,500 to the hospital. This is where the “choose your battles” part comes in.

The hospital’s billing agent, who must have risen straight from the flames of hell to apply for the job, relished tormenting me as I argued why I shouldn’t have to pay full price. I offered to take care of half the bill. She said no and dictated a payment plan beyond what I could afford. When I questioned certain line items, she hinted that she could add new charges to the bill and threatened to send my account to a collection agency.

This exchange went on for six months. Finally, I asked the billing department supervisor if she would write off part of the bill, leaving a $1,500 balance, which I could pay immediately by credit card. She jumped on my offer, as eager to close my account as I was to be rid of her sadistic subordinate.

So, why did I pay a bill that I considered unfair?

After months of dealing with this billing agent, I wanted that stress-inducing, toxic relationship out of my life. It was worth $1,500 to me to never speak with that person again.

Also, this wasn’t a battle I could win. The hospital needed to be paid for its services, which were separate from the first doctor’s charges, even for a botched surgery. I could have spent the next year fighting the bill and possibly come to some settlement ($1,500?), but the stress wasn’t worth it. I wanted my life to be peaceful again.

For the next four months, I lived frugally and hit that debt hard until the balance was zero. Fair or unfair, the bill was gone, and so was the snarky collector. At least I managed to negotiate $800 shaved off the bill.

When it came to another unfair medical bill, I wasn’t so quick to lay down the sword.  I went back and forth with a hospital and my insurance company for six months because both claimed that I was required to pay for a mammogram, a preventive procedure required by the Affordable Care Act in most cases to be covered by the insurer.

The hospital told me I’d need to call the insurance company. The insurance company instructed me to phone the hospital.  I went back and forth for months, talking to countless agents, sending letters and eventually filing a grievance with my insurance company.

Finally, I received a letter in response. Turns out I should never have been billed at all, just like I’d insisted all along.

In this case, I persisted because my health insurance provider was clearly in the wrong, and I could prove it after digging through medical records, filing forms and engaging in numerous annoying  phone conversations with poorly informed call center agents.

If you’ve ever had to haggle with your health insurance company over a denied claim, then you know you get worn down. Maybe you get tired of fighting and just pay the bill. Or you keep on and on until you prove you’re right.

However, sometimes the decision just comes down to one of Dr. Phil’s favorite mantras: “You can be right, or you can be happy.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t dispute inaccurate charges on a medical bill. You definitely should pursue that.

However, in my surgery example, fighting the hospital wasn’t worth the stress and irritation that billing department staff created in my life. So, I paid the debt and cut my losses. Let them be right. I’d rather be happy.

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Meet the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp


Hipp is a freelance writer based out of Missouri.



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