5 On Your Side

Additional Hospital Bills Make Contractor Sick

Posted December 13, 2006

— When a worker on one of Jimmy Bridges' construction crews cut himself last year, Bridges drove him to University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill to get stitched up.

What Bridges never expected, though, was that he would get sewn into a web of red tape and endless bills that would last more than a year.

Bridges paid the initial $180 bill at the hospital. A month later, a $390 doctor bill and a hospital bill showing a $91 account balance arrived in the mail, so he immediately paid both.

"In less than 20 days, I got another bill from the hospital with another balance. It was $291 more, so I paid it," he said.

That brought the total for four stitches to $952, and he figured that was it.

But in June -- more than a year after the hospital visit -- he got another bill for $753.

Bridges said he went round and round with UNC Hospitals and a collection agency, making calls and writing letters saying he didn't think he should have to pay the $753 because he was billed so long after the fact.

"If I pay this $753, a year later can they come back and now a year later say, 'We made a mistake again, and you owe us now $1,000,'" he said. "How far does it go?"

Bridges finally called 5 On Your Side for help.

After 5 On Your Side called UNC Hospitals about the bills, the hospital agreed to drop the $753 charge.

Spokeswoman Stephanie Crayton said Bridges was originally billed too little because the hospital coded the case wrong.

The confusion started because Bridges was a third party paying someone else's bill. Most of the time, Crayton said, a third party is an insurance company, and Bridges was originally billed the price insurance companies pay for treatment, which is much less than what people who don't have or don't use insurance pay.

Once the billing department discovered the mistake, the hospital sent the larger bill.

Bridges said he is relieved the final bill was rescinded, but he said he can't imagine doing that to one of his customers.

"My customers would laugh at me. They really would," he said.

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  • erwaxman Dec 21, 2006

    Sorry, Angela, but you're the one who's wrong about insurance companies paying more than uninsured people. Hospitals have to charge everyone the same price for an item (call it the "list" price); to do otherwise would be to commit fraud. Large payers -- like insurance companies, HMOs, PPOs and so forth -- have contracts with hospitals that provide for substantial discounts, ostensibly because large payers provide hospitals with large numbers of patients. Uninsured individuals don't have contracts with hospitals, so they get to pay "list" price. Those who have the least ability to pay wind up paying the most, while those with the greatest ability to pay wind up paying the least. What's even worse is that hospitals have to inflate their "list" prices so that when those prices are discounted for large payers -- by anywhere from 30% to 80% -- the hospitals can still make money. The "list" prices that uninsured people have to pay are, therefore, much higher than they ought to be.

  • angelajohnson Dec 18, 2006

    I agree with Chuck in regards to going to a family doctor/urgent care, because they are definitely less expensive than the hospital, but Ms. Crayton is wrong when she said they bill insurance less than a patient without insurance. If a person has insurance, the charges go "way-up". Another thing as well, it was not Mr. Bridges fault that the hospital keyed in an incorrect code, regarding a 3rd party payment. Please people, the attendant should have entered it all as workers comp. I would have fought and disputed those additional bills.

  • jwbrewer Dec 15, 2006

    And people wonder why health Insurance cost so much! Good thing he didn't need more than four stiches.

  • chucksim Dec 15, 2006

    You should go to your family doctor or an urgent care for non-life threatening situations, or else you get stuck with a bill for the emergency room use, emergency room doctor, supplies, sometimes another radiologist or other specialist, ambulance, and on and on...