According to an article by CNBC, 32 percent of American workers have medical debt and approximately 28 percent who have an outstanding balance owe at least $10,000. In addition to the soaring costs of healthcare in the U.S., which oftentimes produce worse outcomes than other industrialized nations, another issue with our healthcare system is the lack of transparency associated with the costs. How often have you found yourself wondering how much a particular procedure, test, or prescription costs?
Having health insurance doesn’t always shelter you from the high out-of-pocket costs. In a recent BuzzRx survey, nearly half of Americans struggled to pay for their prescriptions during the pandemic, and 89 percent of those surveyed had insurance. For many, it’s a guessing game how much prescriptions cost until they’ve actually been filled and processed.
Recently, I had to undergo a number of COVID tests in one month. Although it had been widely publicized that testing was free, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about the rapid test, which was what I needed. I was concerned that because I had just been tested two weeks earlier, I’d be billed for the next one.
Wanting to make sure I wasn’t going to be charged some exorbitant amount, I called up my health insurance provider for answers. The experience turned out to be a complete waste of time, as the representative I spoke with couldn’t tell me if I would be charged for the test or not. Instead, she treated me to a lecture on how I should make an appointment with my doctor for treatment if I thought I had COVID.
Although I tried to explain that I wasn’t sick enough to pay a visit to my doctor and I didn’t even know if I had COVID, she was adamant that I didn’t need a test. After talking in circles, I eventually hung up the phone, feeling more frustrated and confused than ever. I finally took my chances with a visit to CityMD, where they told me not to worry. All COVID tests, both PCH and rapid, were covered. I couldn’t help but think how often we forego a treatment or a test because we can’t get answers about how much it is going to cost.
Hidden Subscription Costs
While researching a piece on healthy apps, I came across a similar situation in which I spent an inordinate time trying to figure out the costs of various apps. Not one of the websites listed a price, so I found myself on my phone trying to find the info through the app store. Again, I ran into issues. As I read through the various reviews, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Others described their frustrations of signing up for a free week-long trial and then being charged a subscription fee. Most of the reviewers didn’t complain about being charged for the app, the issue they had was the lack of transparency. Nowhere was the pricing available upfront. Instead, you had to provide an email first.
I even contacted one of the app companies to get an actual price for the service. What I got instead was a lovely email thanking me for reaching out and then giving me a convoluted response that they couldn’t actually give me a figure because they have multiple pricing structures. How difficult could it be I thought? Is there a one-time fee? What is it? Is there a year-long subscription? What is it? I realize that they probably make more money by getting someone to sign up for a trial and then transitioning them to an ongoing subscription, but I couldn’t help but feel it was rather unfair to put the onus on me to cancel the subscription. Like most people, I’m quite capable of making a decision when I have all the info.
Disappointed by the experience, I brought it up to my partner, who had his own story to share. It turns out earlier that week he had been craving a burger while on the road. Stopping off at a nearby McDonalds, he found himself studying the menu board with an intensity not usually devoted to a fast-food menu. It wasn’t that he didn’t already know exactly what he wanted. It was that he merely wanted to know what it cost. Apparently, McDonalds, Wendy’s, and other fast-food establishments have discovered that it’s easier to upsell customers by offering combos. Of course, that means that most people end up getting fries and a sugar-laden soda with any meal they buy.
While I appreciate a great deal, I also welcome transparency. My partner didn’t want a soda, but he did want to know the price of the double cheeseburger he craved. When he finally gave up and asked the cashier, she actually had to look it up on the register. As we continued our rants about the growing hidden price trend, I couldn’t help but think this was yet another deceptive pricing practice that we’re paying for with our health and wellness. In this case, it is contributing to the country’s obesity problem.
Hidden Prices with Resort and Banking Fees
Another not-so-obvious fee is the one many hotels levy, often ranging from $25 to $45 a day, as a mandatory charge to access on-site amenities, such as the fitness center, pool, and even Wi-Fi. Again, must we charge people extra for wanting to work out? These resort fees or urban amenity fees are another way to tack on an extra charge without really being transparent about it. Because while they’re allowed to advertise a lower room rate, the hotel is actually charging a higher rate when the guest checks in.
Banks are also notorious for their hidden fees. Some of the most common are maintenance fees, minimum balance fees, overdraft fees, nonsufficient fund fees, returned item fees, online bill pay fees, stop payment fees, mobile deposit fees, and more. All can impact your financial wellness and conspire to leave you a bit poorer.
When Cash is No Longer King
A new trend that doesn’t involve hidden fees is the tendency of some stores to no longer accept cash. While there are some valid reasons for this, mainly it’s more convenient and safer for employees, it also does a disservice to people who prefer to pay for their $11 Simply Salad or Sweetgreen salad with cash. Not everyone has credit, and even those who do sometimes prefer not to add to their monthly credit card bills with inexpensive purchases that only serve to keep them in debt to their credit card companies.
Unless you’re an extremely savvy consumer, and even then, it can be extremely challenging not to feel like the odds are stacked against you when it comes to pricing that is anything but transparent. From hidden fees to non-inclusive payment methods, it’s on us to start demanding better of the companies we do business with and recognize when their pricing practices negatively impact our health and wellbeing.