These experiences softened me up for a pitch from Remedy, a new start-up that aims to help people fight their medical bills. Though estimates of billing errors vary widely, at least 10 to 30 percent of medical bills contain a mistake. I figured my recent medical misadventures might make Remedy worth my while.
Remedy was founded in 2015 by John Schulte, a software engineer, Marija Ringwelski, a public-health worker, and Victor Echevarria, a former executive at the errand startup TaskRabbit. Echevarria sought to apply TaskRabbit’s duty-delegating model to disputing medical bills, another chore many can’t wait to offload. By the end of November, Remedy had raised $1.9 million from investors, and it’s expected to formally launch this week.
At first, Remedy relied on individuals texting the company photos of bills they found dubious. Before long, though, the team realized people “felt they were being taken advantage of and wanted a constant protector,” Echevarria told me. Now users connect their insurance to the platform and have Remedy scrutinize every one of their claims. To the layman, disputing medical errors can prove so tedious and complicated, Echevarria said, that “it makes cancelling Comcast look like the simplest thing in the world.”
Remedy’s bill-sleuthing is performed in part by a network of medical-billing contractors who work on each patient’s “cases” on their own schedule. For any errors uncovered, providers are supposed to refund the money directly to the Remedy user. Remedy is free to use, but it takes a 20 percent cut of the savings they find, up to $99 for a single bill. (Though the company said that $99 cap could change.)
Remedy said that based on “research from CMS [The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services], statistics from academia, and independent investigations,” medical errors are responsible for $120 to $150 billion in overcharges each year. It uses that figure, divided by the population of insured Americans, to bolster its claim that it would save the average family $1,000 per year.
It’s not clear yet how much money Remedy would save for the average healthy-ish person, however. Echevarria told me Remedy focuses on the mistakes made by doctors’ offices, rather than on bargaining with insurers. In the U.S., all diagnoses are assigned a code, and an improper code might lead to a denied claim, as might a clerical error like a misspelled name. It’s easy and common for doctors or billing clearinghouses to make these mistakes, Echevarria said. Insurers, meanwhile, are so strict in what they cover that negotiating with them can be like “banging your head against a wall of futility, even for us,” he said. Still, the company said it would appeal some denied claims, like those for services that should have been covered by the plan.
Since its founding, the company says it has discovered errors in half of its users’ bills. For patients who can’t afford their bills, Remedy said they will help set up monthly payment plans for free. Eventually, Echevarria said, “our hope is to negotiate for discounts in every single case” where a patient desires one. In my case, though, steep, correct bills weren’t reduced; I got an email from Remedy saying “everything checks out” with my three-figure mouthguard.