'Can't bring myself to give them that money:' Why this patient refuses to pay a $323 hospital bill

A patient has yet to pay New Orleans-based Tulane Medical Center a $323 bill for routine blood work after she said the hospital didn't adequately respond to her questions, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune report.

Kim Spencer, a 61-year-old from New Orleans, said she had to change her primary care physician after UnitedHealthcare exited the ACA exchange in Louisiana last year. She selected Humana and chose a primary care physician at Tulane. After seeing the new physician, Ms. Spencer said she received an $88 bill in the mail she took as the visit's co-pay. She paid the bill the same day.

However, another bill arrived requesting an additional payment of $323 for a blood panel her physician ordered. When Ms. Spencer called her physician to inquire about the charges, the physician connected her to the medical center's billing department. After two months of email and phone exchanges, Ms. Spencer said the hospital couldn't answer why the bill was so high for the blood test, according to the report. 

Tulane said in a statement to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune the cash price for Ms. Spencer's blood test was "comparable to the cost of the test at other area facilities" and if "a patient's insurance requires them to pay more out of pocket than that amount, they should review their plan and its deductible with their insurance provider." The medical center did not provide the cash price for a metabolic panel, according to the report.

A further analysis of cash prices for the same test by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News found prices vary widely across the area. New Orleans-based Clinical Pathology Labs charges $19 for the panel, while Quest Diagnostics in Gretna, La., charges $34 and New Orleans-based Ochsner Medical Center charges $40.

Ms. Spencer said the charge has caused her to seek a different in-network physician at another facility. She said she "felt like the price was hidden from" her, as she was not notified of the cost before the test. Although it has been months since her bill arrived, Ms. Spencer said she "just can't bring myself to give them that money," citing the hospital's lack of answers and the "unfairness" of the charge.

For Jed Lipinski's full report, click here.  

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