My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

THE IMPORTANCE OF THOROUGHLY READING YOUR BILLS



People who are on various lists and groups with me are probably getting tired of me saying this over and over, but folks you really NEED to read every bill you get, understand it, question what you don’t understand because in doing so you can save your family hundreds if not thousands every year. 

 Billing errors are a huge drain on our economy.  Most are truly accidents, but others you sometimes have to wonder about.  Some are small others, like some I recently discovered are HUGE!

Here are some examples I have “discovered” in the past and when I suggested to others they check their similar bills they too “discovered” they were being over billed.

Let’s start with utility companies.  One I really keep an eye out for is on the power bill.  Especially a program called “Share the Warmth” or similar titles.  More than once that item has appeared on my bill as a payment due.  It supposedly is for paying the bills for those who can’t afford their winter heating bills, it is NOT a mandatory part of the bill.  It is voluntary.  Only they add it to your bill and you have to “volunteer” to be exempted from paying it.  The amount varies from month to month because it is based on a percentage of your bill.

Not only is their system backwards on how you join it (they sign you up and you have to ask to be removed from it) the money does not, generally, go to those in need.  There have been numerous news stories on this.  It goes into a general fund to cover people who have defaulted on bills and does nothing to help those currently struggling, it goes to help keep the power company’s profit margin up, plain and simple. 

 I keep a very close eye on this because quite frankly to me the cost of the power company doing business is their problem not mine.  I always have it removed from my bill when it pops up.

Land line phone companies are very good at insisting you have to purchase their packages that include conference calling, long distance etc when you get a land line in order to have internet service.  Only you CAN opt out of those services, they simply don’t tell you that unless you ask. Why pay for them when you have all that on your cell phone?  They don’t tell you that you don’t have to pay for a package, they just bill you for it until you protest.  

There is also a process called “Slamming” which scammers use to add to your phone bill without you realizing it.  You sign up for a sweepstakes, they want your phone number to “notify you if you win” but what they don’t tell you is when you voluntarily give them your phone number you are signing up for their “special” call forwarding, long distance or other service.  Because you have signed up for the sweepstakes technically the phone company has to add it to your bill—same with cell phones—until you demand it be removed, and then that can be a very lengthy problem.  We once had to change our phone number to get the company to stop billing us for a service we did not want. Then they tried to send us to "collections" for services not received. 

Cell phones, oh let me count the ways I have found errors on cell phone bills.  International calling—never signed up for it, never used it, but it was included in our package for an extra fee, extra phone line charges when no extra phones were added, activation fees on a phone that had been active for three years, double activation fees, at two different prices, I might add for one new phone purchased, data fees—when we have an unlimited data plan, roaming fees when we never left our immediate area, taxes for another state than I live in, double insurance—on an old phone I didn’t even want insured, deductible on phone replacement when my insurance policy clearly stated there was no deductible.  The list goes on and on, for cell phones.  

My absolute favorite on the cell phone was when we were still paying by the “minute”.  Ds actually worked for that particular cell phone company at the time and his service was suppose to be free even though dh and my phones were by the minute, so it made it made the situation even more stupid.

He made a single phone call to a friend in another city.  The call lasted 15 minutes, we were bill for 45 minutes worth of time in that 15 minute time frame.  According to their phone records he had hung up and redialed over 50 times in that 15 minute time frame.  WHILE talking to her constantly for the 15 minutes.

Yes the bill, showed a continuous speaking time of 15 minutes as well as 50 times of dialing from the same number to the same number in that exact same 15 minutes.  A physical impossibility.  Yet it took numerous phone calls to get a human to understand that it could not be done, especially on a bill that was free to begin with.  We are talking over $100 on that particular incident.

Fine, you say, so that one was over $100, the others they are peanuts not worth my time or effort.  Really?  As Granny always said “Mind your pennies and your dollars will mind themselves.”

But I mentioned earlier thousands of dollars, oh yeah, billing errors that large can truly happen, and in fact do happen on a daily basis all over the US in just about every town, city, borough, you name it.

The biggest offenders I have found are medical bills.  When my father died I was executor of his estate and was amazed as I went through his final bills that the hospital had charged him for meals—when he had been on nothing by mouth the last week of his life—respiratory services, room charges and much more up to THREE DAYS AFTER he had died! Have you priced a hospital room charge lately, we are talking hundreds per day.

I thought that to be a one time fluke, then my grandmother died.  This time it was prescriptions delivered to her nursing home and supposedly dispensed to her days after she had died.  Okay, so maybe that is twice and still that one isn’t in the thousands of dollars.

Then my wonderful husband had a series of illnesses the last of last year and the first two months of this year.  What a comedy of errors. These are some of the items I have found and had corrected so far.  I won’t name hospitals, or doctors but here’s what I have ran into so far, and he is still being treated for some of his ailments. I shudder to think what else I will find as we go forward.

1.     My husband has Medicare part A, which covers the hospital bills only, it works in conjunction with our other insurance provider to pay 100% of the actual hospital bill, IF it is ever applied.  It wasn’t.  Seriously, the hospital never filed for it.  UNTIL I realized they hadn’t and insisted they do so.  The savings, over $11,000 on the first visit and roughly $9,000 on the second.  

2.     One doctor billed us for TWO initial visits.  The key term here is “initial” there can only be one initial visit.  The difference between an initial visit and a regular hospital visit is $180. 

3.     Transitional care to another doctor $470, only it wasn’t another doctor it was our regular doctor.  So who was transitioning where? The office visit should have been our co-pay of $35, so $435 difference there.

4.     Insurance deductibles, folks watch these closely.  Because of when the visits happened we had to meet our deductible twice, because one hospital stay was in 2014 and the other was two weeks later in 2015 for an entirely different reason.  That is understandable, it is two different years.  

    However, our 2015 deductible is $5,000 and we were still being charged for deductible at the $9,000 mark.  The insurance company simply hadn’t noted that we met our deductible with the first hospital stay in early January and kept applying our balance due to deductibles.  That’s $4,000 when I stopped that procedure, how much higher it could of gone I have no idea, but for our math we'll use the $4,000.

5.     Insurance not filed.  Doctor bills have been received where visits have never been filed on our insurance, you often have to really read your bill to catch this one, because unless you compare the office visit charges to what the insurance company says has been filed you can miss this one.  It is especially hard if the bill is many pages long, but it is definitely worth the effort to wade through it one item at a time. That was nearly $300.

6.     Co-pays and deductibles charged by hospitals and doctors upfront, and then they still get paid in full by the insurance, meaning they get your money and the insurance money resulting in you having a credit balance, only unless you read your insurance payouts you are likely to not catch this and request the refund. $450 on our bills so far. Refunds were requested of course. All companies concerned have agreed I have the money coming and will send me a check, they say.

7.     Billing for services not received.  Therapy sessions not given was this offender.  Filed complaint got them backed off $200.

8.     Payments made by us that were “returned to the insurance company due to insurance overpayment”  only at that point the insurance had not paid a penny, and there would be a balance still due for the services rendered after the insurance was paid.   $70. 

There have been other things, but these were the ones that came to mind while typing this.  I truly don’t believe that most of these were purposeful, I simply think it is because people are not doing due diligence on their jobs. While one doctor's office was a huge offender several have had these errors.   Had I not been vigilant in my bill reading we would have been out an extra $25,857 minimum (remember the deductible could have kept climbing).   

That is more than some households make in a year.  That is how much taking time to read and understand our medical bills at the minimum I have saved us so far in just the last 3 months on medical bills.  So is it worth your while to take time, to sit down in a quiet space and study your bills?  Absolutely!

My husband estimates that by reading bills, and RECEIPTS (I  catch items on grocery and other purchase receipts constantly.  Items double scanned, or charged at regular price when they are on sale generally)  for items purchased that I save us roughly $10,000 a year on average.  It generally only takes a few minutes to read the bills and if more of us did, fewer errors would be made.

Jan who says she has a lot better places to put that $25,857 minimum so far this year than in someone else’s pocket in OK

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