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Doctor's Office Blames Old Bills On Files Lost In Flood

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Keeping up with medical bills can be confusing. It is why policyholders depend on insurance providers to bill them properly and in a timely manner. A Wake County woman learned that does not always happen.

Last March, Linda Tacy got an unexpected bill for $135 from Raleigh Associated Medical Specialists. The service date was December 2002. Tacy knew she was not there in December, so she called the office. An employee told her the bill was for a physical she had in August 1999.

Tacy questioned the bill and said the employee demanded payment.

"'You have two choices here. You can either pay the bill or I'll send you to collections,'" Tacy said of the response.

Tacy spoke with a supervisor but got nowhere. So she called Five on Your Side. Soon after Tacy's call, Five On Your Side got another similar complaint against Raleigh Associated.

Dr. Charles Cook said the office flooded in January 2000 and computer records were destroyed. He said the office recently managed to retrieve some records and sent out the old bills. Cook said some patients were mistakenly rebilled.

Cook said his staff was supposed to ask patients for proof of payment, but not demand payment if they did not have it.

"It's not the intent to turn anyone over to a collection agency," he said. "It's just our intent to retrieve as much, you know, as possible."

Raleigh Associated looked into the bills of Five On Your Side's complainants. During that time, Tacy found documentation proving her insurance paid the bill. Both situations were straightened out.

Tacy fears many people will pay even though they do not owe money.

"Upon the threat of being sent to collections if I had no proof that they had been paid, I would have ended up paying it," she said.

A problem that came up with the second person who complained about Raleigh Associated was that he was billed three years after his treatment. Like most insurance companies, his only accepts claims made within a year of service.Raleigh Associated agreed to clear the bill.

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