Ever Been Ripped off by a Medical Bill? Meet the Entrepreneurs Fighting Back against This All-Too-Common PracticeBusiness Features Remedy
According to a recent study, 20% of working, insured Americans have had problems paying their medical bills in the past year. That climbs to 53% with those who are uninsured. That burden gets even heavier when patients receive medical bills full of errors. The odds are, when you receive a medical bill with erroneous charges, it’s not always obvious—unless you’re a male being charged for a pregnancy test.
This is where the founders of Remedy want to help you: by putting money back in your pocket if you’ve been incorrectly billed by your doctors or a hospital service.
During Paste’s interview with the founders, Marija Ringwelski and Victor Echevarria, we learned about their personal journeys leading to the creation of Remedy, as well as their vision for the company.
Meet the founders in their own words
Marija Ringwelski: I’ve spent my entire adult career in healthcare. Before starting Remedy, I was a pharmaceutical pricing consultant, where I saw how non-transparent healthcare pricing is in the US compared to other countries. I knew that my next career move would involve helping people better navigate the complexities of healthcare. I started interviewing people at bus stops throughout San Francisco to understand their top healthcare concerns.
Photo by Remedy
Overwhelmingly, most people despite having health insurance, said that they had mistrust in their medical bills and that at times this resulted in them foregoing the care they needed, due to the fear of the unknown cost.
During the period when I was conducting these interviews, my husband and I had received some medical bills due to minor illnesses. I decided to team up with a medical billing specialist to analyze the accuracy of our bills and I was shocked to learn how many billing errors were detected that lead to most of them being either reduced or eliminated entirely. Without the help of the medical billing specialist, we would have fallen victim to this broken system.
Victor Echevarria: I actually started my career as a semiconductor engineer in the Silicon Valley. After an MBA and some time as a venture capitalist, I set out to build a sharing economy company and eventually spent three years at TaskRabbit.
Photo by Remedy
When I met Marija, I was floored with her findings behind medical billing errors. I immediately embraced the vision of a company that would protect people from the unjustified financial hardship that comes from incorrect medical bills. Almost as though it were on cue, my family experienced a medical emergency that contributed to almost $12,000 worth of medical bills landing in our mailbox. It turns out that every single penny was incorrect. We should have been billed nothing, yet without our newly founded venture, I would have been facing a real financial crisis. Nothing galvanizes your resolve than truly experiencing the plight of those whom you seek to help.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Paste: How did you meet and come up with the concept of Remedy?
Ringwelski: Victor and I became friends in 2012 while he was working with my husband at TaskRabbit. I had been exploring the idea for Remedy for a few months when I met up with Victor who had recently experienced the burden of high medical bills. We decided to put his family’s outstanding medical bills through the trained eye of a medical billing specialist. His family’s medical bills that totaled over $12,000 got reduced to $0. The billing errors were complex enough where if it were not for the help of a medical billing specialist, Victor’s family would have been on the hook for the entire balance. Patients do not benefit from the financial risk management partners that medical providers and insurance companies enjoy. We saw an opportunity to become that financial risk management partner to patients.
Paste: What were some of the legal challenges you faced starting a company that deals with patient medical information?
Echevarria: As an agent of the patient, the law actually works in our favor. Doctors and insurers are required to honor a patient’s wishes and give us access to detailed billing records. Regulators recognize that giving patients access to their data is a key ingredient in holding the industry accountable.
Paste: What are some of the day-to-day challenges of running a startup like this?
Ringwelski: Being a young company that is trying to solve a problem in a way that hasn’t been done before, you have to be comfortable with learnings that will set you off in a new direction you didn’t anticipate. This means that the day-to-day challenges vary greatly. Sometimes it means making changes to the product quickly to address important user feedback. Other times it means scaling the operations workforce quickly to adjust for workflow changes.
Paste: Is the service only available in one state or across the U.S.? How do federal and state laws affect the way Remedy works?
Echevarria: The problem exists everywhere, and so do we. Different states have different approaches to privacy laws, but we go above and beyond to secure and protect our members’ information. One challenge we face though is that various states allow doctors to charge us for access to our members’ medical and billing records. This is a practice that ultimately harms patients and one we hope is solved over time through initiatives that give patients unfettered electronic access to their information.
Paste: How did you come up with the pricing? (If customers get money back, Remedy will take a 20% cut of what it recovers with a limit of $99 on any particular bill)
Echevarria: We are in the business of removing financial hardship and made our pricing decisions based on that. Our percentage fee ensures that our members only pay if we deliver value for them. Our fee cap ensures that we’re not just transferring a large liability to us. An uncapped, 20% commission on a $100,000 bill is equally unaffordable as the original bill for most people.
Paste: What happens if an individual doesn’t have insurance? Can they still use Remedy?
Ringwelski: We are in the process of making changes to the product that will support members who are uninsured—that’s very important to us.
Paste: How many contractors do you currently have? How do you ensure the security of the data the contractors are handling for patients?
Echevarria: Our contract network scales up and down with the workload we receive from our members. We treat our members’ information with the utmost regard for privacy and security. Our contractors all have many years of experience working under the constraints of HIPAA and our systems enforce strict access control.
Paste: What are the challenges you foresee coming up in the next year?
Echevarria: The elephant in the room is what is going to happen to the Affordable Care Act—we know now that it won’t be repealed, but there still may be big changes made to the current structure. Any regulatory change will create instability as doctors and insurers figure out how to comply with the new way of doing things. Patients will see an increase in medical billing mistakes during these times. Additionally, any regulation that decreases collective coverage is going to increase the need for organizations to help patients deal with onerous medical bills.
Paste: What are the long-term hopes and goals for the company?
Echevarria: We want to see a world where medical bill inaccuracies disappear. In the process, we’ll see an end to meaningless financial hardship and remove a significant barrier to patients getting the care they need to get and stay healthy
Paste: Number one tip from the founders?
Echevarria: If you set foot in a hospital, it’s a good bet that you’ll receive an inaccurate bill. Don’t settle for paying it without reviewing it for problems. Ask to see your itemized bill and make sure everything is right.