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Down the Road

Pay what you can, deah
By Milt Gross
May 18, 2014 - 1:25:14 AM

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The other day Dolores phoned a hospital billing office to see if we could arrange a payment plan for a bill we had received regarding a visit we had had with a surgeon.

She reached a voice mail, which forwarded her to another voice mail, which forwarded her to another voice mail, which sent her to yet another voice mail none of which answered her question.

Now these weren't actually "mails." They were answering machines. These electronic machines respond to your phone call, when the person you're trying to reach isn't there. In the case of employees, they usually aren't there.

But a short time later Dolores received a call from the hospital. She actually talked to a live person -- which tempted her to drop the phone and jump up and down for glee. The caller told her they didn't have a plan.

"Pay what you can, deah, " was the payment plan the caller suggested.

Sounds like a good plan. We will.

The bill Dolores was reading stated that we owed $270 for a total bill of $573, the remainder of which Medicare had paid. This was for a conversation with the surgeon, not for the actual operation.

During that meeting with the surgeon, he had explained what he called the "procedure."

I have a problem with the word "procedure." A procedure, in my opinion, is something you're trying to do. In the most recent case about a procedure I remember, it was about the procedure I would need to use to sew a button back onto my pants.

I grabbed a needle and thread and the pants, and figured out the procedure as I went. The only part I wouldn't consider part of the procedure is when I stuck my finger with the needle. No word such as "procedure" can describe what came out of my mouth. I just know it wasn't a procedure.

But this is about hospital billings, not sewing that darned button back on those darned pants....which, by the way, I finally did.

During an earlier visit with a different surgeon about a different medical procedure, I asked that surgeon what he would charge for the operation.

He said he didn't know. He just did the procedure.

He didn't add that he hoped it would be enough for a payment on his boat, probably a yacht. (We, who would be paying the bill for that procedure, are the proud owners of a well-used 14-foot canoe.)

Years ago, a caller from an out-of-state hospital phoned us at suppertime to ask about a bill for $5,000. (When I later looked at the bill, I learned it had been for "other." Great, $5,000 for "other.") The caller wanted me to look at the bill.

I explained to the caller that we were eating supper, and we didn't keep bills in front of us while we were eating supper. But she insisted.

Not being happy with that phone call, I called the hospital and reached a guy who was in charge of a guy who was in charge of the guy who was the caller's boss.

This hospital official was helpful. He said that the hospital was going to drop the bill for $5,000 and that I shouldn't worry about the caller who had demanded that we keep hospital bills in front of us while we ate supper.

That was helpful.

I believe it was the only time anyone told us they were going to drop a bill.

He could have said instead that we could pay what we could.

We would have paid what we could, deah.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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