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Patients Racking Up Medical Bills Despite Affordable Care Act

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Even people with health insurance can still rack up significant medical debt, particularly if they get a serious illness.    Now,  a new service from Nerdwallet is helping steer individuals with outstanding medical debt to medical billing experts,  who can help reduce those bills.

"Accuracy is the first issue," according to Linda Adler,  founder of Pathfinders Medical Advocacy & Consulting.  Adler, who's also a patient advocate, says she and other medical billing experts look for errors, confirm the insurer is covering everything it's supposed to cover, and attempt to negotiate lower bills. "The thing about having a medical billing advocate is we speak the language (as the insurers.)  We can make calls on your behalf."

Adler and her team recently helped cancer survivor Marcus Rietema shave thousands off his outstanding bills.  After contracting lymphoma, the father of three was facing about $60,000 in medical debt.  Although crowdfunding helped him  raise about $30,000, he and his wife realized they could use more help.  "I was really frustrated with the insurance plan," Kim Rietema told Consumerwatch.

And help like that is getting easier to find.  While you can search for a medical billing expert on your own,  Nerdwallet recently introduced a service intended to match billing professionals with people who need help.  Nerdwallet first offers a free evaluation to see if you're a good candidate.  If you are, Nerdwallet makes the referral.  "Oftentimes the outcome is several thousand dollars in savings," according to Nerdwallet's Christina LaMontagne.  She says four out of five medical bills contain an error.

Medical billing experts typically charge a fee for their services.  It's usually a percentage of the amount they have reduced the bills, or an hourly rate.  Adler donated her services to the Rietema's.  Their debt is now down to $6,000, a sum they're chiseling away,  according to Kim Rietema.

Nerdwallet's referral program is part of the site's new Nerdwallet Health Program.  It also offers free advice and on-line forums for people with medical billing issues.


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