The Cost of ‘Peace of Mind’

money-943761_1280By Lindsey Trent

Having endured months of bed-rest for my high-risk pregnancy, I knew things would be different when our son was born. But when he arrived a month early, no one prepared me for how tiny he would be – just over four pounds. The preemie diapers sagged on his little jaundiced frame.

Those first weeks of his life in the NICU were so emotional – marked by joy at his arrival, but marred with uncertainty about his future as we met with doctors who explained the challenges Hudson might face.

Some of Hudson’s challenges were external, physically-identifiable problems. Others were less certain – which left us with many unanswered questions about his future development.

One of the external complications he faced was hypospadias, a somewhat common condition in which the urethra’s opening is located someplace other than the tip of the male genital. When Hudson was just a few months old, a visit to a pediatric urologist confirmed that surgery could fix the problem and he would just have a simple hypospadias repair done to him.

We leaned toward the surgery. Our son’s pediatric urologist was considered an expert in his field and we wanted to eliminate this practical problem for our son. But we had just paid his expensive NICU bill and we still faced the likelihood of other surgeries down the road. Practically, we needed to evaluate the cost of the surgery before proceeding. But were unprepared for how difficult it would be.

Over a period of several weeks, my repeated calls to the doctor’s office were not immediately returned. When I did get a call back, I was told the cost of the procedure was unavailable, and we should consult our insurance company.

But our insurance company could not forecast our costs until they knew how much the doctor’s office would bill us. When I relayed this information, I was directed to the hospital billing office – who then referred me back to the doctor’s office.

As a first-time mom with a preemie, I was severely sleep-deprived and beyond frustrated because I was trapped in a never-ending merry-go-round of phone calls.

After weeks of making calls every day, in desperation for an answer, my husband decided to email a friend for help. His friend knew senior executives at the hospital. We didn’t want special treatment, just an answer. Within hours, we received both in a call from a senior hospital executive.

We ultimately chose to rearrange some of our finances and proceed with surgery that would cost more than $11,000. But we were deeply shaken by the lack of overall customer care we received – from both the doctor’s office and the hospital. If we had not received assistance tracking down the cost, we may have delayed the surgery for months, even years – impacting the life of our son.

Yes, my family is fortunate to have a happy ending to our story. But what about all the families who have no outside help who are left at the mercy of the system?

Lindsey Trent’s essay was submitted as part of the 2015 Costs of Care, HFMA, Strata Decision Technology, and Yale New Haven Health’s contest entitled The Best Care, The Lowest Cost – One Idea at a Time.

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