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Deal with the BillPosted Monday, June 21, 2010, at 10:48 AM
This article is somewhat difficult for me to write because it seems many of us are being treated unfairly by medical service billing offices. I have heard three stories this week on the subject about which I am writing, therefore I thought it was time to say something.
Three different senior citizens contacted me this week with nearly the same complaint, two about hospital bills and one about a doctor bill. Here's the first story as it was told to me (I will refer to this individual as Ms C):
Ms C received a call from a hospital in her town wanting her to call the billing department. She did call them and spoke to a very nice young man who said she owed a balance, and had not paid on it in several months. He asked if she could pay the balance off that day. She asked him what the bill was for since she didn't remember receiving a bill from the hospital. He informed her that it was for a procedure they had performed on her. She went to her files and found that she had a procedure done six months ago and had paid the total amount five months ago. When she told him this he checked and said "I am so sorry, that check was applied to a previous account of yours that had been paid off and now it has a credit on it. I will transfer the credit amount to this account and it will no longer have an outstanding balance."
Do you see what's wrong with this picture? The hospital was quick to call Ms C and dun her for what appeared to be a past due account, but she had never heard from them regarding the credit balance on the previous account. When questioned about why she had not ever been told that she had a credit balance she was told that it was not the hospital's policy to call individuals and inform them of credit balances on an account. I checked this out myself with the billing department of the hospital in question, I was told that was correct they do not inform patients of credit balances.
I would want to write this off as poor practice by one hospital but later the next day I was talking with a co-worker who said the very same thing had happened to one of her clients but at a different hospital.
Additionally I learned about a doctor visit where the patient visited the doctor only once a year. When his doctor visit was finished this year and he stepped up to the desk to pay his bill he was told, "You have a credit from last year, we'll just apply it to your bill today." My question to this is, why did they not let him know last year that he had a credit and give him the option to either leave it as a credit balance or ask them to send him a check for the credit amount. What would have happened to the credit amount if he had moved away or died or otherwise never gone back to that particular doctor?
The above issues definitely do not affect all of us but they may severely affect some of us. That is why I wanted to share this information with you. If you think you might be affected I would suggest that you contact the hospitals and doctors you have visited and check to see if you have a credit with them, and if so you may want them to refund the credit to you. A way to keep this from happening in the future would be when paying your bill, be sure to write in your check memo the account number on your bill so they will credit the correct account with that payment.
For more information please contact me, Jackie or Liz at 573-335-3331 or toll-free 1-800-392-8771.
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Ruth Dockins is the Public Information Director for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging and author of 'Age Spots,' a column/blog which is featured in several Southeast Missouri newspapers and is devoted to seniors and senior lifestyles.
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