Friday, October 3, 2014

Frugal People Read the Fine Print....

Opened the mail today and found two surprises.  One was a reimbursement check for $169.99, issued by the manufacturer of the dehumidifier we purchased over three years ago.  This past summer the unit was recalled -- the model had a tendency to start house fires.  Out with the old, in with the new. And today the cost of the new was reimbursed.  Fine print - it is worth the attention.

Mailing number two that really got my attention was a bill from American Medical Response out of Modesto, California.  Wow, they sure do not waste time.  After 60 seconds of scanning the bill it was clear it was for the ambulance we'd called while vacationing in Seattle.  As my son and I drove off into the dark Seattle night to Seattle Children's Hospital because of his croup I wondered "Hmmmm, a Mercedes ambulance, what will that cost?"  Regular readers will recall a post from earlier in the week when cost was not a concern, more of a curiosity.  Our frugal life means that when it comes to medical expenses for our family, we've stockpiled over the years in our Health Savings Account. Concerned?  No.  Curious? Yes.  And I bet some of you are as well.

Based on the bill the ambulance drove us 5 miles, at $18.39 a mile.    So, the mileage totaled $91.95. Ah, but we are not done yet. For reference, the cab back at 2am cost $20 with tip. The ambulance itself, all compact, shiny and new, and European ala the Mercedes symbol -- well that cost $758.00. Ouch!

As my eyes scanned the total I heard a voice in my head (one that sounded just like my equally frugal husband) "wow, that does not seem right, way too much!"  More eye scanning, quick check of the memory bank, and I surmised that our insurance had not been billed.

Now this is not an HMO type of insurance.  We are both self-employed, so we buy it on the marketplace.  There are no HMO hoops, but we do have a $12,000 annual deductible.  Translation, we pay the first $12,000 of medical expenses out-of-pocket.  In our case, we use the tax advantaged HSA dollars to cover those expenses.  In turn, we pay a lower monthly premium.  But even with the out-of-pocket cost on our part, I know from previous medical purchases that we get a negotiated rate. And $758 for an ambulance does not seem to be a negotiated rate.

A quick call to the company confirmed, they had not billed the insurance because it was not on file. Now it is, and in 4 to 6 weeks we'll receive an EOB (explanation of benefits) that will, fingers crossed, give us a lower charge for that ambulance.  And may I point out, this is the charge for the ambulance only, not the hospital.

Oh Seattle 2014, what a trip you turned out to be for our frugal family.  Beyond turning our kid's on to the wonder of Otter forts and sparking in me a new love of lobster chowder, this trip has underscored that fact that life happens, make sure you budget that fact in each month.  And just as important, make sure you take the time to read the fine print.  If you find that hard, use a highlighter, a little trick that got me through three years of buried to the eyes case law reading in law school.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for what the final bill actually turns out to be for that ambulance ride!

Image by author -fruit stand in Pike's Market

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