An increasing number of people have been complaining to us about receiving medical, utility, repair and other bills that they cannot figure out. Some of these bills come unitemized; others contain overcharges or charges for phantom services. Still other bills, printed out by the friendly no-fault computer, are inscrutable enough to qualify as a foreign language or a secret code.
Here are a few examples. One woman rented a tv set for her hospital room and received a bill for the rental price plus a $2.00″billing charge”. Imagine charging you for the costs of charging you. One man went to a dentist to have some cavities filled and received a bill for the cavity work plus $30 for “instructions in dental flossing.”
A hospital patient was billed by a physician (not the one treating her) for dropping by one day to ask how she was — that question cost $700. At least he showed up, which is more than another patient got. He was billed, for a visit by a Dr. whom he never saw. Another man received a $4600 medical bill with no itemization. When he objected he received another itemized bill with $1250 listed for “supply charges.” An elderly patient saw an item on his hospital bill for toothbrush and toothpaste; he wore dentures and only used a solution. On another hospital bill the consumer was charged $6 for 2 tylenols.
One astonished client received a bill from his lawyer who charged $65 an hour for dictating into his machine. When finance overcharges are corrected, the interest added in that period often is not subtracted. Car repair bills come for work never done. Electric companies make excessive estimated meter readings which rile people on a month’s vacation who didn’t use their electricity at all.
One man, who had a heart attack, received a $14,000 bill with one item charged to him three times. The telephone bills are becoming impossible to fathom although the computer makes them look neat and official.
If you think you are experiencing this invoice abuse, think about the average small businessperson. They receive more bills which are even more complex. How can a small office figure out whether the telephone company was accurate in charging for monthly message units. There is no way to independently check without an inordinate expense. Some freight companies were found some years ago by the Interstate Commerce Commission to be double-billing their corporate customers who were dutifully paying twice for the services.
Apart from the cumulative dollar losses from obscure billing practices, one aggregate effect is that if you cannot understand your bills, you cannot comparison shop nor can you detect errors. Read your bills with detective-like intensity. You should not be reluctant to insist on itemized bills wish clear English describing what you bought. Do not be daunted if the doctor, dentist or lawyer say they are following accustomed practice and you’re the first customer to have complained. Tell them, you are used to being first and, like Columbus, are sure that others will follow.
A few months ago, our office manager looked over past bills by our copier company for repairs. She found that nine of eighteen bills were erroneous and all the “mistakes” happened to be in the company’s favor. The case is now before a member of the corporation’s executive suite. A few years ago we discovered that a large landlord was charging office building tenants on a square foot basis, except that he was for example rounding out 10’5″ to 11′. Adds up.
There are literally billions of dollars of potential refunds from overcharges, phony charges, double-billing and other billing shenanigans afflicting consumers and small business customers around the country. To help us further document patterns of abuse, please send copies of any such bills that you have received to: The Bills Project, Box 1736, Santa Monica, California, 90406. Be sure you describe also, if you complained, what response the company or firm or office made to your objections.