Friday, July 3, 2009
Should You Send a Bill after a Patient Dies?
I logged onto a physician forum website and came across the question; "Do you charge an uninsured man's family after he dies?" The patient was in the hospital for a month and the doctor cared for him daily. The man was not insured but the patient's finances are enough to pay cash for the entire hospitalization. The doctor questions if he should bill the family after the patient died?
My first though was "No, just absorb the losses. The situation is unfortunate and the family will have enough problems without receiving doctor bills." As I read the comments on the site however, I realized no one else thought that way, and in fact, I could see the wisdom of the replies.
Most comments were something like, "You provided service and you should be compensated". Or "We all have bills to pay and they sure seek me out when I owe them - the lawyer, the credit cards, even the grocery store." Or "If the plumbing stopped up at the man's house while he was in the hospital, would his family NOT be expected to pay it?" Or "Absolutely send a bill. You can be sure the funeral home, the car dealer, the mortgage company, the magazine subscription, the credit card companies are all sending bills every month." Or "When will physicians realize that medicine is a business? Bill the estate the entire amount due." Or "Beware of the doctor who does not charge. He knows the value of his services."
There were 116 comments and about 99% of them felt a bill should be sent. Some advised a sympathy note also and some said the bill would likely not be paid. Only 2 out of the 116 suggested he not bill the estate.
After reading the comments, I re-thought about my gut response. I think he should bill, but should not actively pursue collections if the family/estate does not pay. We all do charity work, and this may just need to be written off. Of course, that may be one reason why primary care doctors are going the way of the dinosaur.
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 5:28 PM