Hospital Bills Patient 21 Months After Treatment, And Long After Original Bill Was Paid

When you pay off your portion of a hospital bill, you might assume that you’ve fulfilled your financial obligation to the healthcare provider. That is, until nearly two years later when the hospital sends you a new invoice without any further explanation.

This is exactly what happened to a California man, whose daughter racked up more than $42,000 in hospital bills following a horse-riding injury. While the man’s insurance company, Blue Shield of California, covered most of this, he still had to pay around $4,000 out of his own pocket.

“It was expensive,” he tells the L.A. Times’ David Lazarus, “but at least it was done. That’s what I believed.”

Then 21 months after the original incident, the man gets a bill from the hospital for $1,054 without any additional explanation of why he was suddenly being hit up for more money.

Everyone he spoke to at Blue Shield shrugged and told him to pay the bill.

Lazarus finally found someone at the hospital who was able to explain just what the heck was going on.

Unbeknownst to the man, the hospital and Blue Shield have spent nearly two years dickering over this particular bill. The hospital said it should have received more, the insurance company said no it shouldn’t. In the end, the hospital just billed the patient for the amount that Blue Shield wouldn’t pay.

“[W] should have contacted [the father] and informed him about what was happening,” a hospital rep tells Lazarus, in what we would call a “massive understatement.”

It’s situations like this — where consumers do everything they are supposed to do but get hit with huge, bizarre, unexplained charges from healthcare providers — that have some lawmakers calling for legislation that would remove paid medical debt from credit reports, rather than allowing it to linger for seven years.

Similarly, other members of Congress are pushing for complimentary legislation that would give consumers 120 days to resolve medical debts before they get reported to credit bureaus.

Studies show that medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S., with nearly 2 million Americans living in households expected to declare bankruptcy this year due to an inability to pay.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.