I recently received an unexpected medical bill in the mail. Should I pay it, or should I ask my parents to pay it?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total)
I am 24 years old in the United States. I am on my parents' health care plan. About three months ago I had an annual checkup at the general practitioner. I had called the insurance company beforehand and was assured that the checkup would be totally free to me. This was the reason I scheduled it.
Just last week, seemingly out of the blue, I received a bill for between $400 to $500 for a medical visit on that date. This amount is about half a biweekly paycheck for me -- it's a lot of money. (Of course, in the grand scheme of things, when medical bills for hospital stays are in the hundreds of thousands, this is nothing... except for me, today, right now, it's not nothing. It's a lot.) I called the insurance company, and eventually I figured out what happened. The doctor at my checkup had a blood draw done at the checkup, which was filed separately as "diagnostic" instead of "preventive, and therefore was not part of the free checkup. Instead, because the deductible had not yet been met, it was entirely uncovered by the health insurance, . Except for a ~10% reduction that the insurance company negotiated, I pay the whole thing, and the insurance company pays zero.
(The insurance company said I should call the doctor and ask them to change the services from "diagnostic" to "preventive." I've done that -- or rather, I called the health care system's customer service line, and they will call the doctor. I have no idea if this will work. Let's assume it will not.)
On some level, I feel as if I went to an autobody shop, got my oil change done for the price I had agreed on upfront (zero!)... and then three months later they've billed me $500 for checking the fluid levels. I never would have agreed to the blood draw if I knew I would be billed this amount. So much for informed consent. (I feel scammed.) Of course: buyer beware, read all the small details, make sure you know what you're getting into, etc. Yes, I've learned my lesson. Hrmph.
Thanks to my parents, I have had the privilege of never having to worry about a few specific expenses: first, I have never paid medical bills, andd second, I never paid a cent for the rather-expensive college I went to (grants covered 1/3 to 1/2 of it; the rest my parents paid out of pocket). I am lucky for this.
I am not lucky for basically everything else with regard to my parents. The environment I grew up in was hell for a sensitive soon-to-be-gay kid like me: constant arguing and yelling, zero love in the house, emotional abuse, unusual religious restrictions, homophobia, and a father who was warped psychologically in a way I can't easily explain. Two years into college, when I felt unable to do what I had hoped I could in college -- namely, clean my slate and blossom and succeed and leave my upbringing behind -- I broke down and ended up checking myself into the hospital for suicidal thoughts. I spent the next few months in and out of psychiatric wards, the next few years seeing psychiatrist after psychiatrist. This is all relevant mostly because I never paid a cent for what must have been astronomical medical fees. Presumably most of it was paid by the insurance company, but if there was something like 80% coverage, say, that remaining 20% would have been huge.
In the couple years since college I have prided myself on becoming self-sufficient and self-made. I came out of the closet, I worked my ass off at multiple jobs at the same time, I saved up money to buy a car, saved up more money to have a cushion to make a very important cross-country move, packed up that car and made that move, and then through hard work and intelligence and luck and others' help and perseverance I got a single full-time job in the industry of my choice, an industry that more-or-less only exists in this particular city. I'm doing well.
I have only asked for money once in my life from my parents (excluding, and this is notable, college and health expenses, as previously mentioned) -- shortly after college I asked to borrow $1000 to allow me to buy a specific car. I gave them a plan for when I would pay the money back. (This was not the type of "borrowing" in which money is not returned.) They turned me down. I was, to say the least, disappointed.
Which brings me to right now. The medical bill. As mentioned above, this feels like a LOT of money to me. I am self-sufficient in this city, but I don't make much. I would be able to put the bill on a credit card, and I'd be able to pay it off in a couple of paychecks, but I don't like doing so (I try to pay off my credit card bills in full every month). Further, I've never paid medical bills in the past, and somehow in my head I categorize them as just something that *I* don't have to pay. In addition, because it is a medical bill, I think if I ask my parents to pay for it, they likely will.
On top of that, there's another thing to think about: because the deductible is for the whole family, if I pay this bill, I will be paying down the rest of the family's deductible. In other words, it's not purely a matter of "I should be self-sufficient and pay my bills," because by paying *this* bill, I will be effectively be doing them a financial favor, not merely being financially neutral toward them. Because it is a shared deductible, this is profoundly different than, say, my electric bill. I could save them $500 (or whatever) by paying this $500, so (perhaps?) one school of thought could say that they should pay the bill. (I'm reaching here...)
I really, REALLY don't want to pay a particular medical bill, because most importantly 1) I am perpetually short on money, and it's half a paycheck, which feels like a LOT to me, and less-importantly-except-on-a-psychological-level 2) in my head I file this as something I "shouldn't" have to pay, because I never have paid medical bills in the past and because the billing itself feels profoundly unfair to me, because I didn't consciously approve the charge. However, I also really, REALLY don't want to ask my parents to pay for it, because I strive to be independent, because I would hate to be "indebted" to them -- I would think they could hold it over me for a very long time.
What to do? Any advice?