CoPatient: Helping You Answer “Is This a Reasonable Medical Bill?”

copatient0High-deductible health plans are still growing in popularity. While these can be a great way to save on your monthly premiums, it also means that when you do have to visit the emergency room, you get to tackle nearly the entire bill instead of a small co-pay. The problem is that most medical bills cannot be understood by mere mortals. Likely, the doctors and nurses themselves have no clue how that $6,344 bill for a broken arm got generated.

Right now there are honest people that just got their bill, but they are frantically doing internet research because they have no idea if their huge bill is correct or what is “reasonable”. It would be nice for this problem not to exist, but until then I wanted to point out a service called CoPatient. They are made of health insurance company veterans and hire their own medical billers and coders.

You send them your unpaid medical bills, and they review it for free to determine if there are any errors or overcharges. They will send you a free estimate of what they think they can do for you. If you allow them to negotiate on your behalf, they work on a contingency basis and keep 35% of the actual savings. If they don’t save you money, you pay nothing.

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Here’s an example patient flowchart (click to enlarge):

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The legwork that the consumer needs to do is request a detailed, itemized bill from the hospital providers. Some tips from ABC News:

Ask what services are covered under your room and facility charges
Ask what treatments were provided
Identify the date and time of when you were admitted
Clarify medical terminology that is confusing
Specifically look for erroneous double charges, for mischarges, and for situations where a charge defies common sense (e.g., a $22 Q tip).

Here are some quick stats, taken from their website and marketing materials:

More than 80 percent of the medical bills that CoPatient analyzes provide opportunities for meaningful savings. On average, CoPatient saves its customers 40 percent on their medical bills. Since its launch in 2014, CoPatient has saved consumers more than $1 million.

According their iPhone app page, CoPatient finds errors on 80% of all bills it reviews and saves folks an average of $3,000. Their FAQ states that it usually takes ~5 days for the review (more for complicated cases), and 3-6 weeks for the appeals and negotiation process. There is no minimum bill size, they will investigate that $500 unpaid bill.

I’ve never used CoPatient myself, but I would definitely consider it if I was faced with a $5,000+ bill that I didn’t understand. I mean, what would I have to lose?

On a related note, this is yet another consumer service that offers to save money on a contingency basis. That is, they only make money if they save you money. A few others:

  • AutoSlash: Helps you track price drops on rental cards. They make money when you rebook at a lower price with them.
  • Paribus: Helps you automatically request price adjustments on all your online retail purchases. They take a cut of the price drop savings.
  • AirHelp, Refund.Me, AirTaxBack: Get fees refunded for certain cancelled or missed flights to/from Europe. They take a cut of the refund.

Comments

  1. There example seems like it is lying by saying it saved the patient $3000, when it actually only saved them $1,950 after you take into account the money the patient had to pay them. (Or am I looking at it wrong?)

  2. If you have medical insurance you are already getting the contract rate that your insurer has with the hospital or medical facility which should be just about the lowest price possible. Your deductible, whether high or low has nothing to do with this. If you don’t have insurance you don’t need to ask these experts anything or pay them to negotiate for you. You get the medical procedure codes look up what Medicare pays for the same procedure which will really be the rock bottom price, call the hospital billing department and start negotiating from that number. If you have no insurance there is a 100% certainty that a hospital will try their best to rip you off and charge you 4-10 times the actual price on an item or procedure.

    • Besides getting a contract rate, there can be various other errors and overcharges that lead to a high medical bill. You could get the wrong procedure billed, or get a procedure that wasn’t warranted, or be charged for something that you didn’t even get.

  3. Great article. I’m sharing it with family and friends.

  4. Chad Larson says:

    An interesting service, but it’s worth noting that their marketing is, at best, misleading. That “flowchart” infographic, for example, is completely ridiculous. Specifically, it indicates that the company negotiated a reduction of $3000 in the bill, but then also states that it saved the customer the same amount. Her savings would actually be the $3000 less the fee that CoPatient charges, which would be $1950. Admittedly, this is still significant, but note that this appears to be a randomly hypothesized scenario, and one that is not typical of the company’s success rate. CoPatient’s own marketing text states that they save customers 40%, “on average,” a number that I’m betting is at least a little inflated. So a generous scenario would entail a cost reduction of $1861.60 (40% of $4654), of which CoPatient would keep $651.56 (35% of $1861.40). This leaves Bertina with a net savings of $1210. Again, this is substantial, but a far cry from the $3000 they’re touting in their hyperbolic marketing.

    Obviously, this service is better than nothing, but I suspect that insurance companies are able to negotiate lower prices not mainly because they have some sort of insider knowledge, but because they make so many payments to healthcare providers and therefore represent a huge part of the providers’ accounts receivable, giving them leverage that individual payers don’t have. I’m skeptical that a group of “insiders” would have as much success, and I would be interested to see what actual customers are able to save on a regular basis with this service.

  5. I don’t like this at all. Not only because people can’t decipher and argue all the charges from a hospital or doctor, but because it is inherently deceitful. If it takes a company like CoPatient to do this for you then we are dealing with a bunch of disreputable, dishonest medical providers. Imagine all the waste, the bureaucracy, the layers of paperwork just to get a fair deal. Single Payer System Please!

  6. My daughter passed out in a college class. 911 was called and an ambulance took her past an in-network hospital to an out-of-network hospital. Insurance refused to pay bc the hospital was o/o network. I refused to pay because she was unable to direct her own care and did not choose the hospital. The hospital and my insurance companies argued for a year and settled. I then paid the bill, almost all of which went to deductible. Then the ambulance company charged $2000.00 for a six mile ride. Insurance approved $230, but the ambulance service wouldn’t settle for that because they too were out of network. (What incentive would they have for being in network?). I negotiated first with the ambulance company, then a collection agency for 14 mos and finally settled for $500 on the ambulance bill. The ambulance company was owned by the local municipality. I’m a healthcare provider myself and understand my rights and the system. I can very much see where a service like this could truly save people money. it’s a shame when more human capital is spent arguing over the bill than providing health care.

  7. Michael L says:

    based on their example of a “fall”…
    CoPatient negotiates your medical bill…

    then you get a ‘contingency’ lawyer(ambulance chaser) to negotiate the ‘fall’…
    their settlement (assuming they take your case) brings you out ahead.

    seems like the same principle to me…
    CoPatient knows medical stuff and benefits from the fact that we don’t.
    Lawyers know law stuff and they too benefit from the fact that we don’t.

    no disrespect to most lawyers…

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