Receptionist Holds Up Ambulance To Collect $5 Co-Pay From Heart Attack Victim

Barabara Antonelli was strapped onto a gurney and breathing through an oxygen mask when her doctor’s receptionist bounded up to her ambulance and said: “I hate to bother you, but could you give me the $5 co-pay?”

Barbara later told reporters, “Luckily I had a $5 bill. I gave it to her.”

Workers at Staten Island Physician Practice (SIPP) were appalled when they learned of what had happened to Mrs. Antonelli, calling it “insane” and “crazy.”

“It’s not our policy,” said Sally Cohen, center administrator for SIPP, who was surprised that someone would worry about payment on the spot instead of billing the patient after the fact. She said she will investigate what happened and address the situation with the employee. “We’re all in this for medicine. If it is an incident, I will take care of that.”

Mrs. Antonelli’s son, Thomas, rushed to RUMC after she was brought there and was stunned when he heard the story from his mother.

“She’s on a stretcher and they’re worrying about five dollars,” he said, pointing out that if the receptionist was acting against policy, some of the other workers could have stopped her on her way out the door. “It’s insane. When I go there [over the weekend], I’m definitely going to go in and find out who that woman was.”

What an embarrassing failure of common sense. Despite the incident, Barabara is now feeling better and has no plans to switch doctors.

Doctor’s office commits cardiac infraction [The Staten Island Advance via Gothamist]


Edit Your Comment

  1. nemesiscw says:

    “We’re all in this for medicine.”
    Hah! Yeah, right.

  2. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    There is nothing I mate more in crap journalism than the ‘victim holding a piece of paper/money/whatever and looky angry’ shot.

  3. shadow735 says:

    hey at least they were not asking her if she had insurance when she is unconcious.

  4. ekthesy says:

    This is a good example of a story where the headline is more exciting than what actually happened. Receptionist is told in no uncertain terms that she is to collect co-pays, receptionist follows the instructions to the letter of the law, hilarity ensues.

    Just another day in Shaolin.

  5. hypnotik_jello says:

    Yeah but they’re not taking it seriously! for shame!

  6. specialed5000 says:

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. The fact that there is still such a thing as a $5 co-pay is pretty astounding. I want her insurance.

  7. ClayS says:

    Very controversial story. I’m sure the comments are going to be split 50/50 on this article.

  8. parad0x360 says:

    $5 co-pay? Jesus mine is $40. Oh they chased someone you say? Well thats despicable!

  9. FF_Mac says:

    “Barabara Antonelli was strapped onto a gurney and breathing through an oxygen mask when her doctor’s receptionist bounded up to her ambulance as it prepared to pull away and said: “I hate to bother you, but could you give me the $5 co-pay?”

    Could this blurb have a little more drama written into it? Maybe Consumerist shouldn’t be adding to the story. Nowhere in the main article does it say she was on oxygen. Besides, as much as this woman is apparently an attention whore, if her medical condition was as serious as the articles attempt to convey, the medics would have told the secretary to go away. Don’t make it sound like the secretary stood in front of the ambulance and demanded payment.

  10. azntg says:

    Only in New York, will the receptionist come after an ambulance to collect the $5 copay.

    Maybe it’s SIPP’s practice to try and cut down on the costs of postage, envelope and paper LOL

  11. KleineFrau says:

    It’s a sad example of staffers unable to follow common sense. When a person’s life is in the balance, you deal with the co-pay later.

  12. azntg says:

    I don’t know about that the insurance the lady has, but if you’re on a New York state subsidized insurance plan (low income families), the copay is $5. No copay if you’re 18 or younger.

  13. arch05 says:

    There’s a dog puppet sitting next to her head.

  14. Buran says:

    @ekthesy: … receptionist fired for being an idiot … you just don’t do this.

  15. ironchef says:

    cheap bastards.

  16. ekthesy says:


    I think that’s a little harsh. A reprimand, as the article noted, is quite sufficient.

  17. Hanke says:

    One of my doctors charges $7.50 if they have to bill me.

  18. catskyfire says:

    While the receptionist was out of line, I have this image of her getting in trouble before for NOT collecting, and billing instead.

  19. bohemian says:

    It is this kind of crap that had me in a panic over the weekend. We switched plans but have not gotten the proof document or cards out of HR yet. We had someone in the family get really sick but was loathing the hassle or demand for payment up front we were going to get for not having the card in hand. Luckily we didn’t have to take them in.

    I want a $5 copay. Ours just went down to $15 from $35 and I though that was pretty good.

  20. JayXJ says:

    The sick and disturbing thing is that this probably doesn’t shock anyone who’s been to an emergency room in the last couple of years.

  21. Elvisisdead says:

    Meh. After I moved, the dermatologist turned me over to collections for a $10 copay that was uncollected from my last visit over 5 years ago.

    The odd thing was that it was a law firm that tried to collect. I asked her for a copy of the statute that allowed her to act as a collection agent. She just kept repeating, “Sir, this is a law office.” like she was autistic. After the third time she told me that, I told her, “Ma’am, perhaps you didn’t realize it, but you called a Federal law enforcement agency. I will not be intimidated by the likes of you. I’ll call the Dr. and get this cleared up.” She was still talking when I hung up.

  22. Dibbler says:

    My copay is $0 if I came in an ambulance like her otherwise it’s $10 and both are “no deductable” and the insurance is free. It pays to have a wife who works for the wasteful state government.

  23. statnut says:

    @FF_Mac: “A Staten Island woman being rushed from her doctor’s office to the hospital after a heart attack was hounded for a $5 insurance co-pay while lying on a gurney and breathing through tubes.”

    It doesnt say oxygen, but breathing through tubes sounds pretty close.

  24. nequam says:

    @Elvisisdead: Huh? Why can’t an attorney call you to collect your debt?

  25. kable2 says:

    man the health care system in the states sucks so bad.

    that is all.

  26. bnorton says:

    At least she didn’t get punched in the face.

  27. vdragonmpc says:

    I love trips to the emergency room… You can even play ER music on your cell phone as you enter with your child in need of EMERGENCY CARE. No one is in the lobby but you and one other couple, child is crying in pain. Cue music of urgency. Wait. Cue ER theme. Wait. repeat for an hour. Get pissed. Start asking if anyone is working or is the hospital closed for the weekend. Then you get ushered to a ‘confessional booth’ with a ‘nurse’. Cue ER urgent drum beat. Nope no help yet its time to fill out insurance forms and verify your insurance.

    **Watch uninsured people go through in front of you skipping this process**
    Now you go back to the lobby to wait alone with family member. (6 hours) Get told that they cannot treat your child and that there will be a department at another hospital open TOMORROW!!!


    Get billed, sent to collections after disagreeing with bill, rinse and repeat. Ask Hospital how they can bill when treatment was unavailable. Stay in collections.

    Cue ER credit theme….

    Isnt having insurance great? We really dont need a better Healthcare program do we?

  28. discounteggroll says:


    or tased =/

    I am in NY and had to get rushed to the ER via ambulance a couple weeks ago. I had a $20 ER co-pay (which I paid at the hospital) but got a $600 ambulance bill in the mail. I almost flipped out until I called the insurance co (blue cross/shield) and it turns out that this happens because they would rather give you the medical treatment instead of bothering you for your insurance info.

    anyone know what the co-pay for an ambulance is for blue cross/shield anyway?

  29. econobiker says:

    @nequam: My wife got a nasty letter from an attorny collecting old medical debts. The attorney owns a debt collection agency and gets to put his name on the letterhead…

  30. Buran says:

    @nequam: Attorneys aren’t automatically licensed to collect debts as far as I know.

  31. Buran says:

    @discounteggroll: I had to go by ambulance once but couldn’t find my wallet before the paramedics came, and one of them looked for it for me but I had forgotten where I left it admid the stress, so he just locked the door for me and I took my keys and cellphone with me. (I wasn’t in imminent danger, but needed treatment and couldn’t drive and it was somewhat urgent). At the ER I explained, and the nurse gave me their phone number and just said to call it in when I got home.

    Mom found my wallet (and cleaned up the blood) and brought it with her when she picked me up later to take me home, so I called it in and all was well.

    But I can see their point… still, perhaps if this happens to you or a friend again, you can get their number and just phone it in. The hospital phone rep I talked to was quite nice and understanding about it all.

  32. rjhiggins says:

    @hypnotik_jello: OK, the “taking it seriously” meme was played out months ago. Enough.

  33. Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

    And would you mind waiting here until the insurance company sends us the remining $455 for your visit? I don’t mean to hold you up or anything…

  34. RottNDude says:

    In 1997, I was in a highway crash that closed the entire freeway and was strapped to a board and taken away in an ambulance. Blue Shield billed me for the ambulance since it was not “pre-approved”. I appealed and won, though.

    I heard the same story in the movie “Sicko”… come to think of it, I think that was also Blue Shield…

  35. cordeduroi says:

    Eww, she’s SO UGLY!!! LOL–that’s my contribution.

  36. snoop-blog says:

    so does the receptionist need a job now, cause i could use someone who’s that gung ho about collecting on past due auto loans.

    customer: “i’m having a heart attack”

    receptionist: “wait, just make one more car payment please!”

    of course i’m joking i could never hire this girl. i don’t have her number.

  37. DeltaPurser says:

    Reminds me of the movie “Sicko”… Remember the woman who was in an accident and then got billed for the ambulance fees by her insurance company, because she had failed to have it preapproved. How can anybody in their right mind think our health care system is OK?!?! Look to Europe or Canada… Nobody is checking their wallets before heading for the hospital over there.

  38. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    They’ll be asking for an extra $20 if they have to use the defibrillator (insert 80 quarters, exact change please).

  39. Sinflux says:

    I have a $5,000 deductible. Two weeks ago my fallopian tube ruptured due to an ectopic pregnancy and I lost half my blood (was conscious for the 5 hours up until the surgery). I had an appointment at the surgeon’s office last week and she started giving me shit about not paying in advance, when I was quite literally bleeding to death.

    The medical industry sucks.

  40. Trick says:

    Same thing happened to me. I didn’t have five bucks so I wrote a check. But they insisted on ID, well I didn’t have that so I was forced to pay with my Visa. And wouldn’t you know it, I was at my limit and it was declined.

    So I asked to borrow five bucks from the ambulance paramedic. Well, I least I thought I could… he ran a credit check and I was declined…

    Fortunately there was a check cashing joint down the street and I was able to make a payday loan and pay the $5 co-pay.

    Over all everything went far smoother than most of my medical visits. I guess I am just lucky…

  41. KleineFrau says:

    I had a fun trip to the ER in December. I handed my boyfriend (also my medical proxy) my purse with all of the insurance info and they let me go in. It seemed like forever that they had him filling out my paperwork. I’m glad I did not come in alone. Have been in ER’s alone in the past, and had to fill out all of my paperwork before a doctor would see me. What’s going on here? If I have a medical emergency, it’s likely, you know, an emergency, if I’m in the ER. Otherwise, I’d go see a doctor during business hours.

  42. JustIcedCoffee says:

    1) If this was quite so serious, the woman would have told the receptionist to suck it.
    2) If were an true emergency the doctor would have shuffled the ambulance off immediately upon arrival, the EMT’s or paramedics would have rushed off without caring if the was a receptionist running up to the ambulance.
    3) How much time does it take to rummage through your purse for five dollars? 10 seconds?
    4) I’m sure the receptionist had gotten into trouble for not collecting co-pays – or had some bonus at then end of the qtr for 100 percent co-pay collectoin —
    5) it cost more than the co-pay to bll the patient.
    6) The receptionist was a bit crazy, but what kind of worker can one expect for minimum wage?

  43. kable2 says:

    It is threads like this that make me so proud to be canadian. Everyone up here gets health care, be they rich, poor, or out of work.

    If I were ever get sick in the states on a visit, if at all possible, I would drive like a bat out of hell back to canada.

  44. clinky says:

    Yes, Consumerist if filled with stories of people getting ripped off, losing their life savings, having to spend hours and hours trying to get the simplest problems corrected.


    The horror…

    Again, please note that:

    Most of the time when you go to a doctor’s office, you’re not feeling well. They really can’t collect only when people are just fine.

    It costs more than $5 to bill and collect $5.

    It’s more convenient to pay the girl when you’re there, even from your gurney, than to have to find an envelope, a stamp, and go out to the mailbox.

    Yes, she had a medical condition, but it really doesn’t sound like the EMT was straddling her with the electro-shock paddles. She was waiting on a gurney for what was probably a leisurely siren-less ride to the hospital for, and I’m quoting from the newspaper article, “further testing.”

    There is nothing in the article that the receptionist did anything at all to delay the ambulance, or the initial treatment. In fact, she probably usually collects the co-pay before treatment, she instead sent the woman right in to see the doctor, waiting until the patient was stabilized for collecting the $5 that the woman needed to go to no trouble to give her.

    Really. This woman has EXACTLY ZERO to complain about.

  45. boxjockey68 says:

    @KleineFrau: common sense is not very common anymore…..

  46. ExtraCelestial says:

    I can’t believe someone that is in no way invested in the situation would actually attempt to downplay a 76 yo women’s medical emergency. It’s also pretty amazing that you can do a diagnosis without ever even SEEING the patient. That’s some House ish for sure. Really, god bless your soul. And I’m agnostic.

  47. cheesebubble says:

    @kable2: Ha. Like a bat out of hell. Exactly! Born and raised in Canada, I’m happily ignorant about this “co-pay” nonsense.

    Perhaps Clinky should take a gander at the documentary “Sicko”. You don’t have to be a Michael Moore fan to acknowledge that the American health system is frightening.

  48. Chongo says:

    Its probably my fault in some way, but my doctors office now collects co-pay BEFORE the doctor will see you. I used to just have them bill me because sometimes that 20 bucks just isn’t there.

  49. KJones says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this is Monty Python come to life?

  50. Celeste says:

    I got to take my toddler to the ER just a few weeks ago. We walked in, the nurse in the reception area got his name and age and a description of the problem, and we were in triage within 5 minutes. I handed my husband our insurance card and he went over to billing or wherever to fill out the necessary forms while our son was being looked at. He was back within 5 minutes. We spent over 4 hours at the ER, in a private room that was painted with a cute jungle scene, and had a television so we could distract him a bit. They xrayed the kiddo’s chest, took blood, gave him an IV with antibiotics, etc. When we were finished I asked about what I needed to do to settle the bill and they looked at my like I was insane and told me they had my insurance info and they’d just submit the claim to my insurance.

    We got the notice from the hospital today letting me know how much they were billing my insurance for the visit – nearly $1800. I’ll probably end up paying for about 10% of that. A reasonable price (to me) to have my son treated for pneumonia, and all of us treated so kindly and professionally by the ER staff.

    Then again, I live in a fairly rural area. I doubt they get the same kind of ER volume that more urban hospitals do. I just had to post one positive ER experience… three cheers for Fauquier Hospital!

  51. zibby says:

    Yikes! I would have done anything to get her out of there ASAFP. To be fair, however, maybe the receptionist wanted that cool old-school fin.

  52. vdragonmpc says:

    Clinky: If she was paying a $5 copay SHE HAS INSURANCE AND THE DOCTOR IS GETTING PAID!

    They could have simply billed her on a return visit. There is no justification for approaching a rescue vehicle for payment. Period.
    Nothing is more frustrating than hearing your family member call out to you and you are stuck filling out stupid useless forms. They have people that can copy your information themselves.

  53. Pope John Peeps II says:

    Wow. I’m just putting this out there, but 50% of Consumerist commenters are total shitfaces.

    Hey Consumerist. Start weeding out this pack of vicious retards, please?

  54. meerkat says:

    @Pope John Peeps II:
    Yeah, this must be the “special ed” section of the Gawker empire.

  55. misstic says:

    And people think that putting the US govt in charge of our healthcare is going to make it better???? I’m frightened by that thought. Go look at the VA or Indian Healthcare system to see how “effective” our govt is at running healthcare.

  56. sophistiKate says:

    I really disagree with all this vitriol at the receptionist. I just don’t think the information in this article is sufficient to tell us whether the receptionist acted appropriately or not. I have seen ambulances called in non-emergent situations. The fact that one was called here is not alone sufficient evidence for such ire. To suggest one explanation, if this patient had routinely stiffed the doctor’s office before, I think it would be very reasonable to ASK that she pay now.

  57. the_wiggle says:

    @catskyfire: quite likely & no doubt it was a bad scene, threats of firing, etc. would explain the utter lunacy of grabbing the copay when she did. . . .

  58. the_wiggle says:

    @Sinflux: omg. i am sorry you had to go thru that sort of hassle after enduring that. hope you are recovering ok.