Message from Montie

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Make your health care and financial companies work for you, read the fine print

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Message from Montie

Shamontiel is the author of two novels: "Change for a Twenty" and "Round Trip." Check her out at shamontiel.com.

Photo: Shamontiel L. Vaughn

 Let's say you and I had a contract and I told you that you would be given a certain amount of money to do with it what you needed. But then as soon as you spent that money, I asked you to give me hundreds of dollars back because I felt I deserved it regardless of what I'd stated earlier about it being yours to use. Would you give it to me?

 

Then why is it that some of us do not give this same amount of attention to our bank statements, hospital bills and credit card statements? I had a co-worker a couple of years ago who would shove her bank statements in a file folder and never compared her register to the statement to make sure she wasn't overcharged. Her reason: "I hate math." I guess if you have beaucoup money, this is okay, but I go through all financial documents with a fine-toothed comb.

In December 2008, I got a full physical with standard tests included, and out of $1,512 spent, this health insurance company wanted me to pay the remaining $612.36. I knew I'd read my health insurance coverage fully so I didn't owe this amount. Instead of surrendering to this insane amount, I wrote a letter to the hospital where I was tested as well as my health insurer. Both spoke again and said they could decrease my amount by approximately $50. I still wasn't going for it because I knew what I read, so I asked for a full breakdown of what the health insurer covered versus the hospital versus what I'd have to pay. They mailed this information to me, I looked it over and I asked the health insurer representative to decode all of the fancy talk for different tests to tell me what each test really meant.

 

The work she had to put in to explain all of this stuff forced her to really pay attention to my fees versus the health insurer. And then I received a bill in March saying I now only owed $25.36. Three months of arguing, and I'd managed to decrease the amount $587. And while I still didn't feel like I owed anything, I did pay the $25.36 to cover the co-payment amount.

 

What did I learn from this experience? Bill collectors and financial companies oftentimes look at their clients like they're illiterate. They don't expect us to challenge their rates or even ask about them because it's in legalese or medical terminology. Sometimes they don't even believe we'd know where to start. Learn.

 

While President Barack H. Obama is debating about the health care issue and making health care accessible to all Americans, in the meantime, those who have health care coverage should take the time to know what is covered and what's not. Those of us who have credit cards should be able to calculate our own interest rates and know our current balance before sliding the card through anybody's machine. Pres. Obama has already signed a law to protect credit card owners from surprise charges and interest rate hikes. But he can't babysit us to make sure we know our own financial history. By actually reading the documentation you receive and preparing for future financial expenses, you know what you're getting into beforehand.

 

This way, when you get surprise bills in the mail, you can at least have an intelligent debate about the issue or know when to back down. And who knows? Maybe you'll succeed in getting rates decreased or start spending more wisely.

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