National News

Bethesda mistakenly bills woman $1,000 after ER waiting room visit

Posted August 25

— udy Burton said was feeling some pains on a recent Saturday night.

So the Liberty Township, Ohio woman 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 WCPO 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.

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