How hospitals can stop sending bills for services that have been disputed, resolved

After resolving a medical bill dispute more than a year ago, a family of a deceased patient received a repeat claim in the mail, a trend hospital billing experts say happens all too frequently, Kaiser Health News reported. 

Jameson Rybak, who was experiencing withdrawal symptoms from quitting opioids, was taken to the emergency room at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, S.C., after his mother feared for his life. Mr. Rybak, who went to the ER in March 2020, was not offered medications to treat addiction nor was he given referrals to other treatment facilities, Ms. Rybak said. She also said that the hospital wanted to admit her son, but Mr. Rybak left because he didn't have insurance and feared a high bill. Mr. Rybak died three months later of an opioid overdose. 

In the months after Mr. Rybak's death, his family received bills addressed to their deceased son, saying he owed $4,928. His mom wrote to hospital administrators in September 2020, and resolved the bill under the hospital's financial assistance program. 

But nearly two years later, the Rybaks received a bill in March saying they still owed $4,928. 

McLeod Health told Kaiser Health News that the bill the Rybak family received in March was a mistake.

"Unfortunately our software system regenerated this statement due to a technical issue," spokesperson Jumana Swindler told Kaiser Health News. "We are checking to ensure that it has not happened to any other patients, and we are sorry this family was impacted by the error."

While there's no national data tracking how often patients or their families receive bills that were paid or forgiven, experts say it happens frequently. 

Billing experts said these instances carry financial consequences, as patients may pay for something they don't owe, or bills get passed on to debt collectors. While these problems can often be resolved, they take an emotional toll on those targeted by the bills.

Michael Corbett, a director of healthcare consulting firm LBMC, which specializes in billing, told Kaiser Health News many cases like this "boil down to human error." 

"Facilities don't have a lack of tools [to avoid this]. It's a breakdown in their processes," Mr. Corbett said. 

To help protect against these instances, Mr. Corbett advises hospitals to invest in more training for billing employees, enact consistent processes for how patient financial information is collected and track if those processes are being followed.

Copyright © 2022 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.

 

Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars