Becky Says...

May 25, 2001

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Billing Hell

This week isn't insane enough, apparently. And a local hospital gets partial credit.

Some backstory: the local (university) hospital is a huge teaching hospital and grows by leaps and bounds every so often. My mother received some care from them after her third stroke, and had received some care in their emergency department prior to that time. Their healthcare isn't bad. But in 1996, their billing system was not doing so well.

The first clue I had of that was when someone in billing got Mother's insurance coverage backwards. The information entered into the billing computer system was that Mother was using Medicare as her secondary insurance, with the insurance provided by the State of North Carolina for active and retired employees as her primary coverage. Which was exactly backwards. My first hint this was done incorrectly was notification from Medicare (all Mother's business mail was coming to her in care of me).

Shortening a several-month story, before this mess was ultimately sorted out I wound up having to get in touch with the personnel office of the Gaston County (North Carolina) Schools, and have them provide proof that my mother had indeed retired from her teaching job in 1976.

But then came the third stroke, and on top of claiming my mother's life, that one sent me into billing hell. The billing people got the coverage right this time (that Medicare was primary, etc.), but kept getting amounts wrong. I don't want to give the whole list of things, because the stack of paperwork associated with the list is over an inch thick. But one amusing billing statement showed that an insurance payment of $200.00 had been received since the prior statement period. However, in billing magic, that wound up being added to the outstanding balance, rather than subtracted from it. If I could do my checking account that way, I would never again worry about money!

For me, the true insult in this billing hell was the hospital's threatening to sue me. The tone they took was not nice at all. And at that point, I let my lawyers take over communicating about the thing. I did answer a phone call from the hospital billing department, though, in which I was informed that they were sorry it had gone so far, but their computer did not show her date of death since she didn't die in their facility.

Therefore, it was all Mother's fault. She died in the wrong place. (Before you ask: yes, they had received a certified copy of her death certificate.)

Eventually all the financial information was straightened out, and no one sued. But I kept the paperwork, just in case. Never mind statutes of limitation. Billing hell does not go away based on statutes of limitation. Read on.

I was the Administratrix of Mother's Estate. In that capacity, I had to provide accounting to Gaston County (her legal residence at the time of her death) for the disposition of her assets. And in North Carolina, there is a certain time frame in which these accountings come due. I was careful to follow the time frame, and careful to keep good records of what had transpired.

I went out this afternoon to check my snail mail. In it, there was a notice from the Gaston County Clerk of Superior Court, telling me to file the Final Account for Mother's Estate (which, to state the obvious, is necessary in order to close the Estate). But the thing is, I had filed that Account, in May of 1997. I had the receipt from doing so, and got it out of its folder in case I needed the receipt number.

I then called the Clerk's Office, and this really nice lady, when I said that I had already filed the Final Account, took about ten seconds before responding, "You sure did! On May 22, 1997!"

The nice lady went on to explain that the dear, efficient-as-ever hospital billing department had acknowledged satisfaction of their claim against the Estate, at some point after the Estate was closed. Someone in the Clerk's Office misfiled the acknowledgement, and that triggered my getting this notice.

She apologized, said I didn't need to send them anything, told me to tear up the form I had received, and asked me to please remember they were humans. I laughed and said as long as I wasn't in trouble it was fine. We wished each other a good rest of the day, and I decided this was a good time to tell you about my experiences with billing hell.

Text copyright 2000-2001 Becky