Judy Burton said was feeling some pains on a recent Saturday night.
So she rushed to the emergency room at the new Bethesda Butler Hospital just outside Hamilton
"I signed in at the receptionist's desk, and she put a little hospital band on my wrist, and told me to go to the waiting room," Burton said.
Forty-five minutes and a few magazines later, she said her pain subsided.
"And I said 'I'm not going to sit here,' because I had no idea how much longer I would have to wait to see a nurse," she said.
So she went home.
Quick visit, huge bill
But a couple of weeks later she was hit by a different kind of pain. This was in the form of a hospital bill for $1,059.
"For sitting in their chair in the waiting room, and I never saw anybody," Burton said.
At first, she didn't think much of it, figuring it was just a simple clerical error. She suspected Bethesda billed her for a full emergency room visit, not realizing she had left.
But when she called, Burton said the hospital would not drop the charges. She said they would only offer a payment plan.
"She told me 'we can give you financial assistance.' And I said 'I'm not paying it. I never saw a nurse or a doctor, no vitals were taken. I just sat in your chair,'" Burton said.
Then she said it got even worse.
"The woman said you will be turned over to collections," Burton said. "And I thought 'oh my gosh!'"
ER billing surprises common
Pat Palmer, a nationally known patient advocate with Billadvocates.com, said emergency room surprises are common everywhere.
"We are paying extreme costs that are not necessary," she said.
Palmer said she commonly sees itemized bills for things ranging from $11 tissues to $50 latex gloves, which can send a simple visit for a stomach ache soaring well into the hundreds of dollars. From the moment you check in, and they put a wrist band on you, costs can start accruing.
Palmer said if you feel you were overcharged during an ER visit:
- Ask for a fully itemized bill, not just a summary, which is what hospitals typically send you.
- Tell the hospital you are disputing the bill.
- Tell them not to send you to collections until the dispute is resolved.
- Write a detailed list of the errors, with copies both to the hospital's customer service department as well as their billing department.
- Sending two letters of complaint is vitally important if the hospital uses a third party biller.
Some good news
After the Don't Waste Your Money team contacted TriHealth, which runs Bethesda Butler Hospital, spokesman Joe Kelly said Burton's situation was all a big error.
It turns out, she should not have been billed $1,000 to sit in the waiting room, Kelly said.
"We inadvertently did not remove her visit from our tracking system when she left, and a bill was processed when it should not have been," he said. "We have taken steps to ensure this situation does not happen again." (Please see below for his complete statement).
TriHealth removed the entire charge, he said. Burton said the hospital also sent her flowers to apologize.
There's a lesson here for everyone who ever gets a hospital or doctor bill that looks wrong. Don't simply pay it, and assume you'll mention it to the office staff next time you visit.
Demand they itemize the charges, let them know you are disputing it and then carefully detail the mistakes in writing. That way, you don't waste your money.
Full statement from TriHealth
"The patient registered for medical care at a TriHealth facility but ultimately chose not to receive care.
We inadvertently did not remove her visit from our tracking system when she left and a bill was processed when it should not have been. We have taken steps to ensure this situation does not happen again.
When we learned of the error, we immediately reached out to the patient by phone and certified mail to extend a formal apology. We also removed the charge from her account and cancelled the claim with her insurance company.
In addition, we conducted a review to determine how the mistake was made so that it would not happen again. We value all of our customers and strive to provide the highest quality, most accurate billing service possible. We apologize for our mistake.
We encourage every patient and customer who has any questions regarding billing to call our customer service number immediately so we can resolve the issue as quickly as possible."
Joe Kelly, TriHealth Spokesman