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Part Two: The Cost of Healthcare

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A mountain of bills may invade your mailbox after you've received hospital care.

Between gross pay, premiums and primary carriers...It get's confusing.

So we sat down with a recent patient to help decipher his bills.

"I don't know what to do about it. It's a living nightmare," said Bryan Resident Floyd Polk.

Polk's nightmare is going to the mailbox each day, knowing that what's inside will only add to his stack of unpaid, confusing medical bills.

"I'll have some in the mail today. It's every day of the week. Sometimes I just throw them in the trash," said Polk.

Polk and many others feel the same frustration.

He spent nearly two weeks in the hospital for tests, and eventually surgery to remove his gall bladder.

Then he became infected from an IV used during his surgery.

He almost lost his hand because of the infection and now he feels like he's paying and arm and a leg for it.

"It makes me sick. They wonder why people get sick. You just look at them {the bills} and call these people," said Polk.

But Polk doesn't just owe the hospital...he has bills from the radiologist, the lab, the anesthesiologist, at least four doctors and any one else who gave him care.

"I get bills from all these people. It's not like when I was a kid -- one bill from the hospital. I have to pay everybody what they ask for," said Polk.

And what he owes has sky rocketed into the thousands.

Polk's three insurance providers are fighting each other over who will pay the most -- leaving him to pay for what the insurance companies won't or can't agree on.

"Three insurance ought to cover it. Now, I'm just trying to figure out what they want," said Polk.

And that's half the battle.

Because Medicare and Polk's two other insurance carriers are in a dispute -- the balance remains unpaid.

One bill would cost him more than 15 hundred dollars out of his own pocket.

But take a closer look...his insurance hasn't paid a penny and until they do, Polk will not know exactly what he owes.

On another bill -- It says the insurance payment is not pre-certified which means once again, they aren't paying.

"They write in codes where if you're not medical or have medical knowledge -- you don't understand it," said Polk.

Decoding the medical speak makes everything much clearer.

For instance, Charges is what the hospital is charging for the procedure...Deductible Amount is what the patient is required to pay the insurance company before the insurance will pay...the Co-pay is the amount an insured patient pays at the time of the visit...payment amount is usually the amount of what has already been paid...what is not covered is what you will eventually owe.

Words like Service and Product code are describing what type of service a patient is provided.

No matter how complicated, try to understand your bills because it could save you money.

Consumer Reports suggests you find out, before a hospital visit, what your insurance covers and what it doesn't.

Call the hospital's billing department and ask what you'll be charged for room and board.

The hospital may charge for items like kleenex or a gown, and you could save money by bringing your own.

You may even be able to bring your prescriptions from home.

Try to keep your own records of major tests, treatments, and medications while you're in the hospital.

If you're not able to -- have a friend or relative do it. It'll help you figure out your bill and spot major mistakes.

Some common errors include incorrect personal information, dates of service, duplicate charges, operating-room time, and more expensive procedures than were actually performed.

And if there's any doubt about a charge or who should pay it, call the hospital and your insurance company.

Make them explain it to you because it may pay off in the end.

To view a sample hospital bill and check it for errors log onto: http://www.thehealthpages.com/articles/ar-$hosp.html