Episode 195

Video Episode

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Episode Description

Medical debt is a real and pressing issue. Millions of Americans are struggling to pay off this type of debt. In fact, it’s the number one reason people file for bankruptcy. To add to this dilemma, 80-90% of medical bills contain mistakes. What if there are ways to crush medical debt and avoid a lifetime of repayments?

Virgie Bright Ellington, MD is an Internal Medicine physician and medical billing expert. A dedicated patient advocate, Dr. Virgie practiced for more than 20 years in primary care and psychiatric settings and as a health insurance executive.

Dr. Virgie now helps patients understand complex medical procedures, communicate effectively with their healthcare providers, and avoid financial catastrophe from crushing medical bills.

In this episode, Dr. Virgie shares her unique strategies for dealing with and eliminating medical debt. Her book What Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Crushing Medical Debt, is a helpful resource for anyone wanting to protect themselves from America’s leading cause of bankruptcy.


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Episode Transcription

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[00:00:00] Bob Wheeler: Welcome to another episode of money you should ask where everyone has something they can teach you. I’m your host, Bob Wheeler. In this episode, we are going to explore why we do what we do when it comes to money as a CPA for the past 30 years. Wait, let me say 25, because that makes me sound younger. I have seen it all when it comes to money and emotions.

[00:00:21] And if you think I’m talking about my clients, I’m not. I’m talking about myself. My relationship with money has been, and sometimes still is an emotional roller coaster. Maybe that’s something you’re also familiar with. Good news. You and I are not the only ones. Our next guest is going to share their money, beliefs, money blocks, and life challenges as well.

[00:00:43] Buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.

[00:00:46] Virgie Bright Ellington MD is an internal medicine physician and medical billing expert, a dedicated patient advocate. Dr. Virgie earned her degree at the University of Michigan Medical School and trained at the Cambridge Hospital of Harvard Medical School. After practicing more than 20 years in primary care and psychiatric settings.

[00:01:24] And as a health insurance executive, Dr. Virgie now helps patients understand complex medical procedures, communicate effectively with their healthcare providers and avoid financial devastation from crushing medical bills through her, What Your Doctor Wants You to Know, series. Dr. Virgie is a former NY one news health contributor and has been featured in Dallas, Fox news, several podcasts and national.

[00:01:47] She now lives in Westchester county, New York with her husband and three children. Dr. Virgie, welcome to the show.

[00:01:53] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Thank you so much for having me, Bob. I really appreciate it.

[00:01:57] Bob Wheeler: So I’m gonna just start off right off the bat. When you were a little girl, did you wanna be an expert on medical billing and medical debt?

[00:02:06] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: No, I didn’t know such a thing existed. So as a little girl you don’t know that money exists. If you’re fortunate, right? You don’t know that such a thing exists. And I was fortunate to be born to a family. We had resources. So I didn’t have to know about those things as a kid, but not all of us are so fortunate, but as a little kid, I was nine years old and I’m dating myself, but.

[00:02:26] I realized I needed to be a doctor because my parents would drive an hour into the city, which from where we lived to commute, we’d go to school in the city, which was Detroit. And at this time this was in the late seventies. There were a lot of layoffs happening in the American, the Detroit auto industry.

[00:02:45] And I remember thinking as a little girl. Even though I didn’t have any concept of money. I knew that, oh my gosh, what are these people gonna do? If they’re getting all laid off, then how are they gonna eat? What are they gonna do? And it was really scary a concept to me. Yeah. And I remember thinking, you know what, I’m gonna have to find a job or do a job.

[00:03:04] When I grow up, I wanna be something where. Everybody needs it. I can’t get laid off as something that everybody needs, no matter what. And I realized, okay, what always will happen? People will always get sick and people will always die. So I was like I can’t be a mortician because that’s really sad.

[00:03:22] And people are crying all the time and I’ll cry all the time. I don’t wanna be sad all the time, so I have to be a doctor. And that was my decision. So money had something to do with my decision, making a physician. And the rest is history. I love

[00:03:34] Bob Wheeler: it. I love the practicality of everything as well. We’re thinking it through at nine years old.

[00:03:38] Yeah. What shall we

[00:03:40] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: do? And what a part of that I even realized, I thought there are times where people my parents were born in the depression era and that kind of thing. So I knew that actual money cash was limited, but people bartered and that kind of thing. And I thought, you know what, even if there’s no money that folks can’t pay me, they will bake me a pie.

[00:04:02] Or they’ll bring me like a lobster or chicken dinner or something or a chicken I was like I’m not sure I’m gonna be able to kill a chicken and dress it myself and all that and cook it, but I’ll appreciate a pie and a lobster. I can figure out how to cook a lobster.

[00:04:15] Yeah. So I was like, I’ll never be hungry if I become a physician. There you go. So I’ll exchange my services. We’ll work for food. We’ll work for food. That was my, the age of nine long answer to your question.

[00:04:26] Bob we’ll operate for food. . Now were your parents in the auto industry?

[00:04:31] Bob Wheeler: No, they weren’t. My dad was an architect and my mom was a teacher.

[00:04:36] The Detroit public school system? Actually, my dad was an architect for the school system for the Detroit public school system. Okay. And my mom eventually got her PhD in educational psychology, and still stayed working with physically impaired children. Elementary school children for her 30 plus year career.

[00:04:55] Oh, that’s awesome. So yeah I couldn’t wrap my brain around what would happen if my parents lost their jobs.

[00:05:01] Which is scary. It’s horrify. And do you have siblings?

[00:05:05] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Yes. I have a brother who I say is older than me in public usually he’s younger. He’s. I’d say two years younger.

[00:05:14] Bob Wheeler: Okay. awesome. And did your parents teach you about money? I know it sounds like you had a good foundation, but did they talk about it?

[00:05:21] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Absolutely. Bob. So I was really fortunate, actually my best friend we’ve been together since. They were both still 17 first grade college, freshman English. She tells me to this day, she was like Virgie, you’re a unicorn.

[00:05:34] And finally, I remember over time, she would say that and I just blew it off and finally said what do you mean? I’m a unicorn? And she said, because you had your dad in your life. And your dad was super, super impressive. So my dad was a self-taught personal financial expert and he taught me everything.

[00:05:52] I know. And again, yeah, I’m a unicorn. I came from a family where we talked about money. I was educated about money. Yeah, I’m fortunate, but I am a unicorn. I recognize.

[00:06:04] Bob Wheeler: That’s awesome. Now, when you got married and you’ve got kids, is your husband also at unicorn? Did you have conversations around money when you got together?

[00:06:15] Was that a conversation?

[00:06:17] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: So that is a wonderful question, Bob. So my kid’s dad, my oldest is turning 17. No 16. Oh my gosh. I’m still not ready. And I’m already putting him at 17. He’s just getting ready to, he’s asking for his driver’s license when he turns. His driver’s permit had to take him to the DMV for his present.

[00:06:35] First thing, Monday morning, he turned 16 on Monday, his little brother in the same day, turns 14 and a half. And their dad and I, when we got married, we kept our finances separate. And there was a lot of assumptions about who had resources who had more than this. And it was a really dysfunctional relationship.

[00:06:54] Yeah. And money was the symptom. I remember Bob, I had started a business. And I got a money coach because I needed someone. I needed a mentor to help me funnel my personal finances from my day job into the business. And I remember one day the guy said, this coach said to me, he was like, Virgie, you don’t have a money problem.

[00:07:17] You have a marriage problem. Wow. And I remember thinking when that guy, when he said this to me, the. Had some, how should I say he was like emotionally a detached kind of person. I was like, he has no idea what he is talking about. He’s emotionally bankrupt how would he, how does he know what he’s talking about?

[00:07:38] And I really wish that I remembered what I told him that made him realize you’ve got a marriage problem. Fast forward. My dad passed away suddenly like the next year or something. and when he left my dad, when he left the system of things, my dad was such a positive energy force in my life that he was the primary male energy in my life.

[00:08:00] But he was so positive that when he left, I realized within weeks of him passing away, I realized, oh my gosh, that buffer was gone. And I realized, holy crap, my marriage has a problem. I really do have a messed up marriage. And even though we went right away, I wanted to go right away into therapy. We tried it.

[00:08:20] We really had two completely different value systems, Bob. Yeah. Which. All the difference it does. And I didn’t realize it until too late until we already had kids. And kids will always put pressure on even the best relationships and shine light on cracks. You didn’t know were there. Yeah. Yeah, so that was my financial experience with my kid’s dad and that marriage.

[00:08:42] And now, oh gosh, five years. My, his stepdad, my husband had a completely different experience unfortunately than I did growing up. My husband is the youngest of five and his dad was what they call F O B. I don’t know if you know what that mean. That term fresh off the boat from Southern China. So his dad was from Southern China, came here to the states and worked.

[00:09:11] Stereotypical six to seven days a week in someone’s Chinese restaurant and money was extremely tight. And it eventually, unfortunately his dad died when he was only 12 and he was on his own. Wow. Essentially, this was in the seventies, so they didn’t pay too close attention to kids like they do now.

[00:09:36] So no one knew that he was out on the streets on his own, like the system, like schools and that kind of thing. And he was in New York city also. So over out on the lower east side in the projects, you get lost. At that time he would work under the table for like local little retail store bodega or something.

[00:09:55] And they would pay him singles a few dollars at the end of the day cash. And again, this was the seventies, but. How many singles he got that day would determine how many meals he could eat. Would it be one meal or two? There was never enough singles that he was given to have three meals.

[00:10:13] So we have very different backgrounds, my husband and I, and it still does color our relationship. It really does. We have lots of active conversations because we come from very different perspectives and we have to share our perspective when we’re talking about decisions for the family.

[00:10:32] Bob Wheeler: I think that’s so important.

[00:10:33] And I love to hear that you’re having active conversations. I think so many people still believe that when couples have a conversation around money, it means a fight or it means conflict. And for me, having conversations around money means context that’s Hannah, I’m gonna have to write that down.

[00:10:53] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Yeah,

[00:10:54] Bob Wheeler: it is. I like. It’s so important that we understand our stories and how we’re arriving at decisions we make today that are based on things that happened to us when we were 5, 6, 7, 10 years old. And so many people were just so unconscious of these money blocks and beliefs that we have that were still holding onto as truth that we learned when we were younger.

[00:11:16] And it maybe not be true or may no longer service. So I love that you’re having those conversations and have that awareness. That it’s just extremely different backgrounds doesn’t mean that it can’t work. It just means you both have to hold space for the others’ experience, which is probably true in most things in

[00:11:33] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: life and we don’t realize it.

[00:11:35] We think, oh, we have so much in common. No, that has nothing to do with anything. I had a lot of in common with my kids’ dad, but our values. So systems we’ completely different and that was clouded. My kid step and my husband and I have the same value system, but we don’t have anything in common so yeah.

[00:11:53] So it works out really

[00:11:54] Bob Wheeler: well. Yeah, absolutely. When did you first become aware of medical debt and the impact it was having on people? Because that is something you advocate for in your present day. And I’m wondering what was that moment or the moments that led up to, wow. We’ve got an epidemic.

[00:12:14] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Yeah. So I’ve been a board certified internal medicine physician for years and years.

[00:12:20] A healthcare insurance executive for 10 years, but it wasn’t until I became a patient I had a serious diagnosis or I had to interact with the medical healthcare system very frequently that I realized that, wait a minute, I have a 360 degree view of the system, but it’s not what I. Thought I just thought you get a bill.

[00:12:42] The bills are generated honestly, and without mistakes and people are put on a payment plan they call and say I can’t afford this. And they’re put on a payment plan. End of story. And unfortunately, there are some folks who slip in between the cracks, who don’t qualify for Medicaid make too much for Medicaid, but still get a big bill, that kind of thing.

[00:13:01] And so I thought, oh, they make payments, but it wasn’t until I became. A patient and had a hospital roommate. Tell me a story. This was a young mom, her children were preschool. She had two preschool-aged kids, so she couldn’t really work outside the home because they couldn’t afford daycare because her husband worked at a 24 hour diner.

[00:13:23] Wow. Very limited resources. And you could tell. She had insurance through her husband’s job. So they had very modest income, probably made just a little bit more than they would not have qualified for Medicaid. But, so that was my hospital roommate. And she’s telling me that this was our second time that she had been admitted for this potentially serious problem.

[00:13:46] And the last time she was admitted for the same thing, she was also in the hospital for a week for tests. And so they could watch her more closely. But she was telling me before she left, she was being discharged from the hospital and a billing representative from the hospital came in and said, before you leave, you need to sign this to agree to pay the bill.

[00:14:10] You’re financially responsible for the bill that we’re going to send you and you agree to pay it. And Bob, when she tells me this, that of course she signed it because she felt that she couldn’t leave without signing. she felt very intimidated english is not her first language just so many levels.

[00:14:26] Of course, even those of us who are relatively well off English is our first language. We’re gonna be intimidated when somebody from the healthcare system in a hospital says, you need to sign this. And we’re like RO, okay, whoa. Right. So she tells me this and Bob, I swear the curtain dropped. I saw red and I was just enraged.

[00:14:49] It was because I knew that they had tricked this woman or intimidated. This woman made her believe, cuz she doesn’t know her rights, that she didn’t have any medical, financial literacy. She believed she needed to sign her entire future away. I knew this family was not gonna be able to survive financially.

[00:15:06] They’re facing a, she designed a lifetime of debt and I remember just being so angry and all of a sudden I said Vergie, don’t get angry, don’t get mad, get to getting, do something. And that’s how crush medical debt was born.

[00:15:23] Bob Wheeler: That’s awesome. It’s so important. I know those stories are not uncommon.

[00:15:28] It’s not a one off. I have a friend who many years ago her child was in a life or death situation. And they said, if we operate, you have to sign away your assets. And she did, of course, and she lost her son and she lost all of her assets. She lost everything. Oh my God. Gosh. And she’s never recovered.

[00:15:48] And oh my gosh, it’s crazy that we have to be put in the choice. Save my kid, or if you don’t sign

[00:15:54] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: here to believe that’s your choice. Oh my

[00:15:57] Bob Wheeler: gosh. Yeah. So it happens. And even as you said, financially literate people, I recently had a surgery and the insurance was hamming in high, whether they were gonna pay or not.

[00:16:09] But then the doctor says, you know what, there’s been complications. You need to stay over. Don’t worry. Your insurance has it covered. And the inside I’m thinking, I don’t know. I wanted to stay one extra night cause I wanted to make sure I was gonna be. But again, the insurance company is we didn’t agree to that.

[00:16:22] And so now they’re fighting it out. I’m fortunate. I will be able to pay that bill if it comes due, if it comes down to it. Sure. But many people don’t have that luxury.

[00:16:33] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Many people are not. And can I just say one thing, Bob, I heard you say that the doc told you, your surgeon told you, oh, you need you to stay another night and don’t worry.

[00:16:41] They’ll cover it. Yeah. Can I tell you something, doctors know nothing about the money. Do not ever listen to a doctor when a doctor says, oh, it’s covered. if it’s your surgeon, your healthcare practitioner, they don’t know because unlike what I think the American myth is about the American physician we’ve been disconnected.

[00:17:00] The American physician has been disconnected from the money for decades. Yep. The us healthcare system is run by private large. Publicly traded healthcare insurance companies, that’s it. And many physicians are employed by huge, large private equity, mega corporations like Blackstone and KKR. Docs have the best intentions cuz we think before, if we were not trained, for instance, I thought before I went into not just the health insurance industry, but going into this work of helping people become medically financially, helping Americans.

[00:17:35] It’s uniquely American problem guys. Yeah. Helping Americans become medically financially literate. I didn’t know. So I would say of course the insurance is gonna cover this because it’s medically necessary. Just because the doc says it’s medically necessary, the insurance will say no, I don’t think so.

[00:17:50] Prove it. And it will say no, just to delay paying that bill, paying the provider. Anyway, I just wanted to just point that out Bob docs, we all have the best intentions because we don’t know either we don’t in medical school and not in training. None of us are taught about the us healthcare financial system.

[00:18:09] Bob Wheeler: And it’s a game. I have a couple of clients that are doctors and they got way behind in. Receivables because the insurance company kept oh, wrong code. Oh, this and that. And it wasn’t until they brought in an expert that went through the billing and said wait a minute. And fixed it. And then they collected a whole bunch of money, but had they not made the effort that money would’ve gone uncollected unpaid because the insurance companies have gotten really good at finding reasons to deny

[00:18:38] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: exactly.

[00:18:39] Instead of figuring out how to say yes and cover their members and take care of their members, they say, And to your point, unfortunately, there are unfortunately some insurance companies where that’s their business model is to deny, and put off paying the providers for the bills that have been generated.

[00:19:01] Bob Wheeler: So how does one avoid surprises? As we’re talking, I’m thinking this is really a lot of work. So if I’m a single mom with two kids, I don’t have time to negotiate and get educated and it’s a lot of work and a lot of people I imagine just go, Ugh, it’s just easier To sign your life away, to sign your financial future away, to sign your baby’s college fund away and your home, a wonderful home for your family away.

[00:19:32] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: No, it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that when it doesn’t have. And so I talk about this in the book. It’s three steps to making sure that you can crush medical debt. And you’re not the victim of cost victim. I should say, of the us healthcare system. So I say that there are three simple steps because it is an analogy I like to give.

[00:19:58] It’s like buying a car and, or paying for car repairs. So people think that they don’t have time to figure out if they’re being overcharged or not. And how if, of course I, they think that the bills are accurate, but actually 80 to 90% of every single medical bill that’s generated in this country.

[00:20:17] Has errors as erroneous has mistakes. Wow. And if you can guess Bob, you think it’s gonna be in the favor of the American patient? No, it’s gonna be in the favor of the provider and, or the healthcare insurance company. So you have to be aware of this. So going into it, be aware that. If you’ve lived in this country and gotten the bill you’ve overpaid, but unless you’ve had a serious injury that required a lot of care or a serious diagnosis, you’re just not aware.

[00:20:46] So to make sure that you’re not getting overcharged number one step is to always you pick up the phone, call the provider and ask for an accurate bill. An accurate bill is an itemized bill. So you’re calling the provider and you’re asking for. Quote, an itemized bill with C P T codes. So an itemized bill is a bill with C P T codes.

[00:21:16] C P T is such a long convoluted word. That’s why we use the abbreviation, even folks that have been in the business and working with these codes for a living can’t remember off the top of their head, what it stands for current procedural terminology. Which is why we call it CBT codes. It’s just too much.

[00:21:32] It’s a mouthful. And these codes are just like bar codes. When you go into a store, you go into a store, every product has a barcode on it. You swipe it through. And what comes up is what the product is and the price, same thing with C P T codes. Actually, I was talking to a radio host. A while ago. And he says I think C P T code stands for can’t pay.

[00:21:59] Yeah,

[00:22:03] but anyway, so you’re gonna call and ask for an itemized bill with C P T codes and every single medical procedure test visit office visit anything you can think of any contact with the healthcare industry in the United States has a C P T code attached to it, blood draws and the type of blood work, that kind of thing, procedures.

[00:22:28] Physical therapy, the kind of physical therapy, occupational therapy, you name it, hundreds of thousands of these codes and every procedure has this code visit, whatever it is so fine. Great. You’re going to get that bill with C P T codes. Step two. You’re going to Google. What that code is. So you’re gonna take like a code C PT code 9 9 2 1 3, which stands for a represents.

[00:22:56] If you run it through, put it in Google, you’ll see that it’s a type of a outpatient visit office visit kind of code. Okay. Great. So now you see what you’re being billed for. You see what service you’ve got and what you’re being billed for. So you’re going to take that code next and run it through Google again and see what Medicare, what the us centers for Medicare Medicaid services.

[00:23:21] CMS pays for that exact service, because that is the. Number or the price, the rate, the fee that you’re going to start your negotiation with. That’s the price that you’re saying? What if the us government decides they’re gonna pay this much, not a penny more for it. Why should I now there are some folks that do this work in terms of medical billing and patient advocacy work who say, okay I’ll agree to pay two times Medicare.

[00:23:49] Okay, but I disagree with just going ahead and just paying what the full retail manufacturer sticker price is, right? Which is usually 300 to 500% higher, more overcharged than what Medicare pays. So that’s the second step is taking those C P T codes. Same with the procedure test or whatever the service is, then figuring out what Medicare pays for at Google and figure out Medicare pays for.

[00:24:18] Third step your final step. You’re gonna pick up the phone again and you’re gonna say, look, this is what I can pay. You’re going to say I know this is a bill of like 4,000 or 5,000, but all I can do is two 50 and they’re gonna say, no often they say can you do three 50?

[00:24:37] It’s gonna take a long time. Never accept, no for an answer, because let me tell you a secret. They much rather take a little bit of something than all of nothing, because they know it’s cheaper to just go ahead and get a little bit of money over a long period of time than to have to chase after you and maybe not get anything.

[00:24:55] Yeah. So that’s why these healthcare facilities will agree to a payment plan and ask for always ask for an interest free. Payment plan that’s within your budget. So I started, I think I got off track. I was given the analogy starting to give the analogy earlier, Bob, I think about folks getting intimidated by their medical bills, right?

[00:25:21] Because they’re like, oh my gosh, they must be honest. They took care of me. They saved my life. They save my kids’ life. Okay. But unfortunately, dots have nothing to do with the billing. They’re just two separate issues and it’s out of the DOT’s hands and unfortunately, Because 80 to 90% of all medical bills contain mistakes.

[00:25:40] You’re looking, most Americans with great insurance are looking at a lifetime of debt or worse or bankruptcy. And so what I say to folks is the analogy I give Bob is we have some basic personal financial literacy in that we know that if you’re buying a car where they’re new or used, you’re expected to negotiate the price on some level, and when we have to take that car in for repairs, we are like, you know what? I can afford this. We have a number in our head. We can’t afford any of it. We don’t wanna pay it, but we’re like, okay, it’s life. We gotta pay for repairs. But there’s a number in our head. We know that we can’t go over. Same thing with medical bills.

[00:26:22] If you can negotiate a car a purchase of a car, and if you’ve paid for car repairs, you can make sure you’re not getting overcharged and pay appropriately for your medical bills. Pay a fair price for your medical bills. So I say when you’re buying a car or talking to your mechanic about repairs and you have that number in your head about what you can afford to pay repairs, do you know any of the fancy car mechanic language?

[00:26:48] Do you know how the engine runs? All those parts, all the the cars in the last 20 years, all the computer parts and this and that and all, no no. And you don’t have to. You may know the engine if you’re buying car. Okay. I know I want a V8. I want a big car. Yeah you don’t have to know how the human body works or fancy medical words or terminology either.

[00:27:10] Same thing. You don’t have to understand. Fancy car mechanic words and how the car engine runs in order to pay for it, not get overcharge. Same thing with

[00:27:20] Bob Wheeler: medical bills. Yeah, I think when it comes to doctors and medical, they’re the experts. We’re not taught that we can negotiate. Whatever they say is spoken from God.

[00:27:32] and so we tend to I don’t wanna look stupid. I’m not a professional. They know better than me. Who am I to dare ask a second opinion. And I think we get socialized that it’s just not okay. And as a country, culturally, we don’t negotiate a lot of stuff we do with cars, but most of the time we’re just taught, pay the bill, shut up, pay it.

[00:27:54] That’s right. Either you can afford it or you cant. And a lot of other countries, I know I was traveling to another country and they gave me the price. I’m like, no. And he goes, no, we have to negotiate. Give me another number. And then I was like five bucks and they’re like, oh my God, that’s painful. . And for them it was a game.

[00:28:10] And I’m like no, just gimme the price either I can do it or not do it. We’re not taught to engage in these conversations as Americans.

[00:28:18] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: This is a great analogy. That’s a great point, Bob. I wish folks, the reason why I’m doing this work and I’ve committed my life to this is because I want folks to know, just like with buying a car medical, financial literacy, personal financial literacy, all medical bills are negotiable.

[00:28:36] The second thing is you’re not talking to the docs when you’re negotiating them. The docs are separate, right? They have no part of it. They have no idea what’s going on. They’re busy trying to take good care of folks. They’re clueless. They couldn’t be separate night and day. They have no idea what’s going on in the back office and their employees.

[00:28:55] Usually they, their employees themselves don’t think that you’re being disrespectful to the physician that took care of you. And we all love our docs. They say doctors are like politicians. We only like ours. We love our docs. we love our physicians, but you’re not being disrespectful by negotiating with the billing office in the back office.

[00:29:16] And with patient accounts in a hospital system, because the docs have nothing to do with.

[00:29:21] Bob Wheeler: Yeah, that’s so important. And I so appreciate that you’re out there advocating and educating because it is so important. We are at our fast five. We are gonna shift the energy a little bit. We’re at the fast five, which is brought to you by cube money.

[00:29:37] A cash envelope system made easy. Real time, financial awareness without the hassle of tracking expenses and carrying cash, you can check out more information in our show. Links, cube money is a great way to practice the envelope system without the envelopes. Dr. ER, we’re gonna just jump in and we’re gonna ask some questions.

[00:29:57] What was your least favorite class that you took at your university? Yeah,

[00:30:01] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: easy. Oh my gosh. Chemistry lab. Oh my gosh. Lord HF mercy. Oh my gosh.

[00:30:08] Bob Wheeler: I think that’s one of the most important things you have to get into medical school. You gotta have the chemistry. Exactly. Ugh,

[00:30:14] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: not as I hate it.

[00:30:15] So there’s like chemistry class and then there was like a four hour lab once a week. And I swear I would go before the. Before the class I would hide in the ladies room. They had a little couch, lounge area in the ladies’ bathroom. And I would get out, I carried a Bible with me and I would just sit and pray and cry before I went or went into chemistry lab once a week, it was.

[00:30:41] That horrible. I don’t think I prayed so hard since I have no exaggeration.

[00:30:46] Bob Wheeler: You made it through, so it worked. It

[00:30:50] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: did surpris. How I did thank God it WASD on a curve. That’s all I have to say.

[00:30:54] Bob Wheeler: There you go. Exactly. When is it okay to go into debt?

[00:31:01] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Oh gosh. When it is Debt that is supported by an asset that does not depreciate.

[00:31:10] Yeah. So that is not a car cars. Depreciate folks do not go into debt to buy a car. So when it is supported by an asset, like a house yeah. That’s when it’s okay to go into debt or a business, that’s when it’s okay to go into debt.

[00:31:26] Bob Wheeler: Yeah, absolutely. What’s one thing you spend money on that would surprise people.

[00:31:32] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Oh gosh. Oh, wow. Probably sushi. ah, I spent a lot of money on sushi. I knew I had a problem just right after the week after Thanksgiving. I didn’t know, I ordered from them so often. So this Japanese restaurant around the corner, I go online and place an order and the delivery guy drops it off. And this particular time I ordered and I didn’t realize it was right after Thanksgiving black Friday and all that kind of stuff.

[00:32:03] The guy comes and he has . He hands me my bag of food. He hands me a big present wrapped, and in, it was a big, giant bottle of sake. And it was a present. He was saying Merry Christmas, essentially kind of thing, happy holidays kind of thing. And I was like, you know what, that’s a problem. I spend so much money with these folks.

[00:32:25] They’re just like, you’re our best customer. Merry Christmas. You’re Merry Christmas, happy

[00:32:29] Bob Wheeler: holidays you paid for this

[00:32:32] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: gift. That’s why I realized I had a problem.

[00:32:35] Bob Wheeler: That’s right. You paid for this gift. exactly. What is your financial superpower? Ooh.

[00:32:42] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: I can pretty much cut through the cocky. I can cut through the crap.

[00:32:47] I can see where the money is and where it’s going. I always follow the money. That’s

[00:32:52] Bob Wheeler: awesome. What are your spending priorities? Oh gosh.

[00:32:56] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: He just made me have a flashback to my dad and his spending priorities. Like I got it, honest from him. I hope it doesn’t make me emotional, but we were just having this conversation.

[00:33:06] We had like a mini family reunion get together at a graduation from college, a family member. And they were talking about how my dad was notorious for being, they said cheap. And so I listened to the stories and I had my own stories to tell, oh my brother and I got 20. A week for allowance and it was two dimes.

[00:33:26] You had to put one dime into savings and one dime into spending. And so at the end of a month we had 40 cents to put towards buying something. That was our spending . Yeah. So yeah he has all these stories, but he was not cheap. And I tell people there’s a difference between being cheap and being frugal.

[00:33:47] Yeah. So he spent money on things that were important. He worked really hard, not to spend money on things that aren’t important, so that you do have the money to spend on things that are important to you. What was important to my dad was education. Yeah. So this was a guy who, because he had to walk to work in a factory.

[00:34:07] He didn’t have a car to go to school, to have money to buy tuition a semester or class at a semester at a time, a class or two at a time. Some semesters, many semesters. He had to give the money to his sister who had four kids and her husband had left her and the washing machine would break.

[00:34:25] And so well, that meant he didn’t go to school that semester. So it took him 13 years to get through school. Wow. To get his undergraduate degree, his bachelor’s degree. So fast forward now that he’s of course gone, you find these things, figure these things out after your parents are gone and you become a parent fast forward.

[00:34:42] I’m reminded my best friend who says Virgin, you’re a unicorn. You have a dad in your life. Who’s very financially active and very present in your life. And that kind of thing. That he made sure that I never saw a bill until I graduated from med school and was moving to San Francisco to start my internship.

[00:35:02] I was a licensed position and that’s because he paid for she, my best friend says Vergie you never had a roommate in college. He paid for a private room. So I wouldn’t have to be distracted by a roommate to study. Wow. His priority was education. So he made sure I had a car. As of my starting my junior year of college, I lived in this fabulous luxury apartment with a balcony overlooking the Ann Arbor river and never saw a bill.

[00:35:31] He paid all my utilities. My mom would drop off groceries every two weeks. I never saw a bill. and then I just remembered this the other day, I lived in a studio apartment in this fabulous building until I got to med school. When I got to med school, my dad moved me into a one bedroom apartment corner unit in this fabulous apartment, the same building this even better view and paid all the bills utilities, everything.

[00:35:58] And so this is a long answer to your question, Bob, but what’s important to me obviously is education paying for things like. Formal education can be traveling. Yeah. My dad also paid for me to go to South Africa right after Nelson Mandela had been released, but it was before the vote.

[00:36:18] So that was my senior trip. So education, life experiences, absolutely. That can’t be taken away from you. That’s what I spend resources

[00:36:29] Bob Wheeler: on. That’s a good spending priority. I couldn’t agree. We are at our M and M spot, our money and motivation, sweet spot. And I’m wondering if you have a practical tip or a piece of wealth wisdom you could share with our listeners, something that’s worked for.

[00:36:44] You

[00:36:45] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: never take no for an answer and always ask. Always ask. If you don’t ask, then the answer is a hundred percent gonna be no. But always ask and don’t take no for an answer, figure out how to make it happen.

[00:36:58] Bob Wheeler: Love that. I think for so many of us, I always thought whatever. Yeah. That’s it. No room for negotiation.

[00:37:04] So that’s great. Just ask all they can say is no, but there’s still some wiggle room. So I love that. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about this conversation, I appreciate the advocacy for people, but just recognizing. We need to pause before we just sign away our life to debt medical, or otherwise, we need to be aware that signature in that moment, even though we feel pressured or it feels uncomfortable, you’re signing something that’s gonna last potentially a lifetime.

[00:37:37] And that you’ve really gotta stop. And advocate for yourself. Get educated, even if it’s a little bit of a pain, even if it takes a little bit of time, because that time you spend now could save you a lifetime of misery.

[00:37:50] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: Exactly. Bob never be too embarrassed to save your financial life. It doesn’t matter if there’s a ton of people in line behind you.

[00:37:59] It doesn’t matter if the customer service rep is exacerbated and sign and making noises and cutting their eyes and just being nasty and rude and making they get clear that you’re overstaying. You’re welcome. And you’re in their way. You’re taking up their. You know what, they’re not gonna be the ones that are gonna be paying your bills.

[00:38:16] They’re not gonna help you outta bankruptcy if you sign this. Yeah. And I’m not, you know what, Bob, I’m gonna take back that one point of wisdom instead of saying don’t take no for an answer. I wanna go back to stories that we talked about, where people felt pressured to sign a financial agreement.

[00:38:33] There are laws in the books that. Say that the signature, your agreement to pay something is null and void. If it’s documented, if it can be proven in a court of law that it was done under duress, I just wanna share that. Yep. I’m a physician. I’m not a lawyer. I don’t give legal advice. I give medical advice.

[00:38:54] But in my travels and doing this work and advocating for people, folks, please, if you feel that a bill has come to you, that they say you signed it, you owe it. You know what, if you’re in the hospital, if you were in the emergency room, if you were sick you may wanna talk with a lawyer about saying, you know what, this was signed under.

[00:39:13] Dures. There’s no way I would pay that. No. If I had known I was forced to sign this, why was I forced? Did they hold a gun to my head? No, but I was sick. I was in pain. My child was injured. My child was sick. Yeah. Yeah. I’m gonna sign anything. And it was under duress. Absolutely. So I think that’s the one tip I would leave.

[00:39:31] Scratch. The thing about never take no for an answer. I’m gonna say what, if you feel that you were scared and intimidated in a medical setting or healthcare setting for your care or care for a loved one, that you signed something, talk to a lawyer about that issue with what, if it was signed under Dures you don’t

[00:39:49] Bob Wheeler: owe it.

[00:39:50] Absolutely. Absolutely. Where can people find you online in social media?

[00:39:55] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: You can find me online@crushmedicaldebt.com, social media. So Twitter is at the real Dr. Virgie, Dr. V I R G I E. And that’s also the same for Instagram. LinkedIn is Virgie Bright Ellington MD, and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a Virgie Bright Ellington MD LinkedIn slash.com/virgie Bradington MD.

[00:40:22] Bob Wheeler: Awesome. We will make sure that is all in the show notes, Dr. Virgie, this has been awesome. I so appreciate your time today and giving us a little bit of insight about medical debt. Thank you so much. You’re quite

[00:40:33] Dr. Virgie Bright Ellington: welcome. Thank you so much for having me, Bob. This has been awesome. I really appreciate it.

[00:40:45] Bob Wheeler: We hope you enjoyed this episode. Did you learn something new about your relationship to money today? Maybe you have a friend who has some financial blocks or beliefs that are holding them back. Please share this podcast. So they too can get off the roller coaster ride of financial fears and journey towards financial freedom.

[00:41:01] To learn how to have a healthy relationship with money. Visit the money nerve.com. That’s nerve not nerd. We’ll be back next week with another perspective on money and the emotions that bind us.

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