10 patients, 10 stories of outrageous hospital bills

We received so many emails and so many stories about absurd hospital costs that we are putting a different story of a medical billing woe into every single newscast throughout a day. In case you're wondering, 9NEWS has a lot of newscasts. 

Hundreds of you have shared copies of your bills. Dozens of you have been willing to air your concerns on camera.

You’re mad. Some of you are really mad.   As we looked into the documents you shared via showusyourbills@9news.com, we couldn’t escape the idea that, for many of you, maneuvering within the country’s confusing healthcare billing system remains more of a run through a labyrinth than a Sunday stroll.

Maybe “confusing” isn’t even a strong enough word.

Chris Vanderveen whipped up this animation to help explain the medical billing process.

Hundreds of you have shared copies of your bills.  Dozens of you have been willing to air your concerns on camera.

We received so many emails and so many stories, in fact, we decided we had enough to put a different story of medical billing woe in every single newscast we do throughout the day.

You probably already know this, but we do a lot of news here at 9NEWS.

So here are some of the stories we’ve shared through the day on Thursday.

PREVIOUS STORY: How peeing in a cup can cost you $6,250

PREVIOUS STORY: Why visiting the ER costs so much money

PREVIOUS STORY: 'Drug companies do it because they can:' How big pharma is exploiting a 1983 law

SHOW US YOUR BILLS: Show us your outrageous medical bills

ANTHONY CARROLL

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When a doctor told Anthony Carroll he needed to get an MRI in order to help diagnose what might be wrong with his ear, Carroll didn’t figure the request would lead to a four-figure headache as well.

“When I got this bill,” he explained, “it was just outrageous.”

He was charged $7,572.85 for the MRI.

After insurance adjustments, he owed $5,721.89.

He and his wife immediately began asking questions and requesting discounts, but until they brought their charges to our attention, they couldn’t get significant financial help on the bill.

After 9Wants to Know called Lutheran Medical Center – a part of SCL Health -- the hospital provided the Carroll family a discount of greater than $4,000.

That still left him with a balance of $940.

While this was much more affordable for Anthony Carroll and his family, it’s also a lot closer to what most of us could expect to pay for an MRI from many other providers outside of hospitals.

This story provides us with an important reminder of why it’s important to be well aware of where your doctor is sending you for additional testing.

NICOLE KREB

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Nicole Kreb now realizes her decision to head to a local freestanding emergency room for a urinary tract infection might have been a mistake.

The four sets of bills in front of her provide enough of proof.

“I’m not a millionaire.   I can’t afford this,” she said.

Her bills, two from UCHealth and two more from National Medical Professionals, totaled more than $3,500.

And the hospital’s billing department isn’t making it any easier on her.

“I’m not entirely sure what needs to be paid,” she said.

She’s not alone in that.

TODD BAKER

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Todd Baker went to a UCHealth ER right after a car crash.   A couple of CT scans later, a doctor told him he was going to be alright.

Because he wasn’t the one at fault, Baker never assumed he’d have to pay a dime for the trip.

When a four-figure bill showed up in the mail, he learned pretty quickly that his assumption had been wrong.

“I’m just trying to understand what the heck happened,” he told us.

We tried to help him figure that out. And after 9Wants to Know starting asking UCHealth to explain the high, unexpected charges – the hospital forgave over $5,000 of the bill.

UCHealth said the first statement Baker received – the one he provided to the at-fault driver’s insurance -- had yet to accurately indicate the level of ER visit.   A spokesperson for the hospital said, at the time of the request for a statement, the final coding had yet to be done.  He said that’s why it’s important to wait for the bill to arrive before concluding how much a patient might owe.

DON BINETTI

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Don Binetti called us with a problem.

“I’ve got a bill for $33,688,” he said.

“Cigna said it wasn’t going to pay for it,” he added.  “There’s no way I can pay it.”

As it turns out, Binetti’s visit to Parker Adventist’s ER after a clot developed near his heart was covered by his insurance, but the resulting hospital stay was not.

After a few phone calls, we realized the problem wasn’t necessarily Binetti’s.

Cigna sent an email to 9Wants to Know stating:

“We are working to make health care easier for our customers - no matter how complex their circumstances -- and unfortunately we fell short of that goal in this instance.  We are glad that we have been able to make it right on Mr. Binetti’s behalf and we will also discuss this experience with the hospital so together we can prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.”

Parker Adventist, part of Centura Health, declined to comment on the treatment of any patient.

RYAN KOLIBABA

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A car mechanic by trade, Ryan Kolibaba knows anyone in his industry wouldn’t have much of a future if he or she decided to fix someone’s car and then bill a month or two later.

“If a car mechanic acted that way,” he said, “they’d be out of business.”

Yet, as he now understands, it’s a perfectly acceptable practice in health care.

Earlier this year, Kolibaba went to University of Colorado Hospital fully believing he had a kidney stone.   That’s what he told the doctor.

The doctor ordered a blood test, a urine test and a CT Scan just to make sure.

A month later, a bill for $2,807 arrived in his mailbox.

He tried to fight it, but UCHealth sent him a letter stating that the charges were accurate and reflected the care he received.

BOB COSTELLO

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Of all of the bills we’ve seen with showusyourbills@9news.com, Costello’s was, by far, the smallest.

“Good thing I’m a cheapskate,” he told us.

In all, Swedish Hospital said he owed $16.36.

“I’ve always been looking at my bills, because you only have so much money.  I don’t want to give it away for free,” he said.

When he complained, Swedish informed him, yes, “there are overcharges on the bill.”

A billing expert told us, it happens more than you might think.

“More than 80 percent of the bills we received contain errors,” Pat Palmer told us.

She ought to know.  She’s the founder of the Medical Billing Advocates of America.

“Eight percent .... And I’m being conservative,” she added.

Swedish ultimately reimbursed him for the overcharges.

 

EREZ RAVIV

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Erez Raviv wrote us back in March.

“I have a rare illness that is a form of chronic leukemia,” he said.

For a few years, his frequent visits to Front Range Cancer Specialists led to no more than a $30 bill.

That changed last year when all of a sudden his visits started to result in a bill of more than $188.

The doctor didn’t change.   His insurance didn’t either.

But one critical thing did, in fact, change.

His doctor’s office had a new owner.

UCHealth had acquired the practice – and therefore began to charge patients a facility fee for visiting their doctors.

JULIE AND CHRIS NELSON

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It’s one thing to get sent to collections for a bill you’ve already received.

It’s quite another to get the notice for a bill you’ve never seen.

That’s what happened to Julie and Chris Nelson.  

And that’s not the only reason why they wrote us.

Ever heard of a $75 late-night charge at an ER?  The Nelsons hadn’t, until they saw it on their Explanation of Benefits.

“That’s like Walmart charging us for shopping late at night,” Julie said.

A medical bill in collections can impact a patient’s credit score.

After 9Wants to Know called UCHealth to find out why their bill was in collections, the hospital group found its error, corrected the address and removed the bill from collections.  

JANA AND RICK NEWMAN

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Jana and Rick Newman had already seen our “BuyER Beware” series warning of the potential costs associated with freestanding ERs.

So, when Jana hurt her ankle, they called the nearest freestanding emergency room.   Run by Centura Health, It just so happened to also be an urgent care facility.

As long as Jana’s ankle didn’t need a cast, they say they were told, the facility would bill at an urgent care rate.

As it turns out, Jana’s ankle never did get that cast, but the Newmans still received a $2,400 bill.

Centura Health declined to comment on the care of any patient.

MELISSA MELTZER

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For all of the high costs associated with health care, Melissa Meltzer knows those costs don’t always result in anger and frustration.

Doctors did, after all, save her life after a bout with sepsis nearly ended it.

Martin Meltzer, her father, gets a little emotional just thinking about it.  

“They didn’t think she was going to make it,” he said.  

The doctors did have to remove 80 percent of her colon in order to save her.

Now he and she just wish they could figure out what the hospital charged for everything.

As of now, lines on their paperwork add up to more than $900,000, but that paperwork tends to change.

And the bills and charges keep coming.

“You don’t know what’s coming.  You don’t know who is billing.   You don’t know what the amounts are,” Martin said.

Melissa Meltzer, with her father’s help, has been trying to get a straight answer from her insurance company and the hospital since she received treatment in September 2016.

SHOW US YOUR BILLS

Show Us Your Bills has been the best way for 9Wants to Know to get an in-depth look at hospital billing systems that are otherwise lacking in any transparency. Because of patient privacy rights and a lack of laws demanding that hospitals reveal their prices, journalists are generally not able to get a wide look at the costs of health care.

Those viewers who shared their bills helped shine a light on the ways the Emergency Rooms code some relatively simple services.

These bills helped reveal a change in urine drug testing that is now costing state Medicaid more than $1 million every month, when just two years ago the state was spending about $50,000 a month on average.

If you have a bill that you think deserves a closer look, or just want to add to our database, fill out this form, or send us an email to showusyourbills@9news.com.

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