Steve Hofstetter (Hofstetter photo)

I finally figured out why some hospital bills are so outrageous.

The first time I ever stayed in a fancy hotel, I noticed three days of parking charges on the bill. Not only did I not have a car with me, but I was only there for two days. I’ve seen people park poorly, but never poorly enough to rupture the space-time continuum.

When I brought the error to the attention of the clerk, he immediately removed the charge. No questions, no consulting with a supervisor, not even enough time to read over the bill. He struck the charge immediately. And that’s when something struck me.

The false parking charges were there in the hopes that no one noticed them. Some people just get bills and accept them without checking the details – and that’s what the hotel was hoping. The optimist in me would like to believe it was a mistake. The realist thinks the optimist is an idiot.

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I bring this up in an insurance publication because that’s my theory on what many insurance carriers and hospitals do as well. My wife is a carrier for the BRCA1 mutation, and underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction. For seven consecutive bills, under three different insurance carriers, we’ve found a “mistake” that was easily cleared up. Seven.

Sometimes the procedure was misclassified. Sometimes something was added to the bill that never happened. Sometimes the coverage rates were wrong.

Our tradition has become checking the bill, calling the insurance company (or the hospital, depending on who made the error), waiting on hold, and getting it cleared up. Each bill should come with a Sudoku, so we have something to do while on hold.

If you are a consumer, I hope my little tale helps you carefully check your bill every time. After all – you might be charged for parking (when you didn’t park a car).