As many of you know I have two awesome cats, Luna and Midnight. They are very friendly and just love everybody. They are sister cats and have been with me for eight years. Kate, unfortunately, is allergic to them.
When Kate and I started dating, she was very allergic to the kitties. Every time she came over to visit me, she would sneeze constantly, her eyes would get red, and her nose wouldn’t stop running. She then started taking antihistamines and that seemed to help out a lot.
When we decided to move in together, she knew that she had to take an antihistamine every day and hope that she would get use to the cats slowly.
It seemed like Kate was getting used to the cats because there were days that she didn’t sneeze at all. She was able to pick up the cats and rub them all over her face without any allergic reactions – yes, that happened.
We did, however, started noticing that her days were pretty much allergy-free, but at night she would start to sneeze. It would make sense since we’re at work all day, but this was happening on the weekends as well.
Kate was getting really tired of sneezing and having to take allergy medication almost every night so we decided to look into an allergy doctor and perhaps get allergy shots.
The Visit to the Doctor
Kate found an allergy doctor close to our house and decided to make an appointment. When she went to her appointment, the doctor told her she needed to get a “skin scratch test” to help determine what she was allergic to.
Well, the scratch test was inconclusive because they didn’t tell her she wasn’t supposed to take an antihistamine the night before. When you take a blood test, they make sure to tell you to fast the night before, but oh well. She had to go back another day for a second scratch test.
The second scratch test told her what she already knew; she was allergic to cats and highly allergic to dust and dust mites – that explains why her allergies are worse at night when we are in bed.
The doctor told her to come back in a week to get her shots because they needed time to make the allergy medication, but before she left she wanted to know how much the treatment would cost.
We have health insurance through work, but our deductible is $500 and then the insurance covers 80% of any cost over $500. Since this was the first time Kate went to the doctor this year, she knew she would have to cough up the $500 if the treatment was more than that so she wanted to know what the total cost would be.
The lady at the front desk told Kate that the office charges $45 per shot, Kate’s insurance allows the doctor to only charge $15 per shot. So Kate knew she would be paying 20% of $15, or $3 per shot. Weird that what they charge and what the insurance allows are so different, but oh well, $3 is a good deal… or so she thought.
And then The Bill Came
What the doctor’s office conveniently forgot to mention was that this visit to the doctor was $250 and the skin scratch test was $600!
We realize that there is a cost associated with the visit to the doctor and with the scratch test, but the office didn’t mention this cost at all. Even when Kate asked, “How much is this treatment going to cost?”
That was pretty crappy, but since she only had to pay the $500 deductible plus $9.92, or her 20% portion, she was okay with it… upset, but okay with it.
And then The Second Bill Came
When the second bill arrived in our mail, Kate noticed two charges – a charge for the first shot ($3) and a charge of $1,000 for something she did not know. Luckily the insurance only allowed to charge $650 so she would only have to pay 20% of $650, but she still wanted to know what that charge was for.
Kate went and asked the “lovely lady” at the front desk what the $1,000 was for and she said it was for the serum. When Kate asked her how come she didn’t say anything about the serum when Kate asked how much the treatment would cost, the lady responded, “Well, don’t you know you need a serum?” To which Kate responded, “No, this is my first time doing this. I don’t know what I need or don’t need. I wish you would have told me that this was also going to be part of the cost when I asked.” The lovely lady went on to say, “We don’t have time to go over this with every patient.” Are you freaking kidding me?
We don’t go to the doctor often so I don’t know if this is normal practice, but shouldn’t doctors tell you upfront what things are going to cost?
When I go to the mechanic, he tells me right away how much he’s going to charge me to fix my car. If he finds something else while he’s fixing the car, he calls me and lets me know and asks whether I want it done or not. Why can’t doctors do this?
If we would have known the cost upfront, we would have thought longer about whether we want to start this completely optional treatment, which is not guaranteed to work. We’re lucky that an extra $600 is not going to make or break our emergency fund. But what if your treatment is not optional? What if you don’t have time to consider whether you want specific tests/treatments done? What if $600 means that you’re not eating this month?
And why are they charging people without insurance a different price than what they charge insurance companies?
I know there’s a big debate about health insurance in this country and that’s a discussion for another time, but there’s not doubt that insurance companies and doctors are playing a weird game here. I don’t know what it takes to fix this problem, but I know something has to change. On a related note, check out this article about a surprise $117,000 medical bill.
Anyways, this little rant is not really about policies, but about our specific allergy doctor. This has been, by far, the worst experience we’ve had at a doctor’s office. Maybe it is just the group of people that work there or maybe it is a problem everywhere. Either way, I don’t like it.
Have you had a bad experience at the doctor’s office? Should we expect doctors to tell us how much the treatment is going to cost or is that too much to ask?