When severe pain sent Eva Zavala to an emergency room in March last year, her treatment involved ultrasound and some blood work. Her visit left her a medical bill for more than a thousand dollars, after insurance.
It was an overwhelming expense for Zavala, 22, a medical assistant in Oregon. She had barely made a buck in the total amount she owed when she came across a video on TikTok several months later.
It was a one-minute clip of a woman she did not know, and presented a scenario that matched Zavala's experience: "You go to the emergency room, you get a thousand-dollar bill," the woman, Shaunna Burns, said in 3 the December record.
Some of these stupid charges, they want to take them right away, "Burns said in the video.
Ms. Zavala remembered that advice a few days later when she went over the bills. She decided to give it a shot "I thought, you know, what can I lose about doing that?" She said. "And then I called, and I told them who I was, and I just asked for a detailed bill for the hospital visit." 19659002] About two weeks later, her post came in. She opened it and saw that her balance was reduced to zero.
"I couldn't believe it was just gone," she said.
It was Zavala's specification showed that the hospital had sought "financial help" for her debt in September, but Zavala said she had never asked for help and didn't know it had been used, even though she had checked the balance sheet in October.
The health care administration that visited the hospital, Zavala visited, said in a statement see that it offers flexible, generous financial assistance programs, and that people who apply for them are typically notified in writing within two weeks of eligibility determination.
Ms. Zavala shared his experience in a tweet that gathered hundreds of comments, tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes. Many said that a call to the billing department – in some cases to request budget assistance – had worked for them or their friends .
Ms. Burn's advice reached the masses via a social media platform most often used to share fake dance videos, funny sketches and other artwork. And something about her description of this particular tactic – a solution that seemed simple, but also kind of mysterious, like a magic trick – seemed to hit a nerve.
In an interview, Burns said her December 3 video was unplanned. She had been ill in bed and had to deal with calls from debt collection when she decided to share a tip in case others would cope with similar situations.
"I thought," What if people out there don't know that they have the right to ask these people to turn off? ", she said.
In the responses to her video on TikTok and Twitter, thousands of people came to talk about how confusing the US health care system can be and how arbitrary the costs are.
Asking for a detailed bill will "It doesn't always save patients money, because every case is different. But it's worth a try," said Erin C. Fuse Brown, a health and medical law professor at State State University. also reveal human error or open the door to negotiation.
"It's a good place to start because it allows the patient to see what they're being accused of and then push back on certain things," Professor Fuse Brown said.
Irene Flippo, a spokesman for patients treating medical bills, said there was a widespread need for education to deal with medical costs. "Many people have this fear of coping with it: what things to say and how to solve these problems, "she said.
Ms. Flippo shared several tips for people working on medical bills: Request a review of the level of care, along with a specified bill. Look for errors or duplicate costs. Check resources that can help you compare prices. Appeal. Negotiate. Get an interest-free payment plan, but notify the hospital if you risk missing a payment. See if you qualify for financial aid. And if your billing department staff is not helpful, you can email the top executives at the hospital via email.
"I think, TikTok, are younger generations," Flippo added. "And to see the response this woman had received, it just confirmed to me that there is definitely a lot of concern among the age group's individuals about their medical costs."
MRS. Zavala said she understood why people approached health professionals with a sense of powerlessness. "Knowing that it is so expensive to walk, and that your insurance does not cover everything, I think it stops many people from going and getting the care they need," she said.
She added that she was not to blame the hospitals for excessive medical bills, noting that some of the problems begin with drug companies.
According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals in 2018 provided patients in need of over $ 41 billion in care for which no payment was received. "As a field, we will always continue to look for new and more effective ways to work with patients who need help understanding their bills or meeting their financial obligations for the care they receive," the group said in a statement.
Ms. Burns said she learned to travel around the hospital after many years of caring for three daughters, one of whom was kidnapped for more than a year, and now struggling with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
She described herself as a pushy person – the kind who offers tips, help or coupons to strangers without being asked. Her TikTok videos are presented without frills or filters. Her delivery is non-nonsense and peppered with explosives. She often shares detailed journal entries or encouraging messages.
She is not the only one using TikTok to dispense advice. When asked about credit, she sometimes refers them to Alisa Glutz, an Arizona mortgage lender who shares tips about her own TikTok profile. And there are several health professionals who share tips on health and wellness on social media.
Ms. Burns acknowledged that some of the cost reduction advice she provided – "Don't take an ambulance unless you have the right to die!" – can become something of a liability if it didn't work out. "I'm not there as a medical professional," she said.
But she added that people still wrote to her asking questions about her medical bills, and that she advised them whenever she could.
"You don't have to be ashamed of being in debt," she said. "And you have the rights, and you can have the confidence and stand up to these people."