More hospital double-dipping

To the editor,

This is the second installment of my double billing saga with Centura Health, the supposedly nonprofit corporate overlords for Mercy Medical Center. Last fall, I and Medicare were double billed for a routine office visit on Sept. 9 to a provider with an office in the hospital complex.

The top line charge to see the provider was $387, and the second charge was $308.92, bringing the top line charge for a routine office visit to almost $700!! I called Centura and was advised the second charge was a “facility fee” for the privilege of setting foot in their hospital. This is a new charge that looks like basic corporate price gouging.

While I and Medicare didn’t pay the top line charge, people with high-deductible health insurance might, I’ve been told.

On Dec. 12, I had another routine visit with the same provider in the hospital building. I just got the bill for that. More double billing to me and Medicare. It’s $387 to see the provider and $189.82 for what’s called “clinic – general classification.” I called Centura again and confirmed that is indeed another “facility charge.” So this time the top line bill for a routine visit is only $576.92, a screamin’ deal, right?

Interestingly, my co-pay after Medicare is the same as the Sept. 9 visit - $24.72 for the facility charge and $13.70 to see the provider. Also interesting – both charges were on one bill instead of two separate bills for the earlier visit. Is that so the patient and Medicare might be less likely to notice the double billing? Or if it’s on the same piece of paper, it’s not double billing?

The Jan. 30 Telegraph had an article from Colorado Public Radio about the role of hospitals in our state’s above the national average health care costs. The story cited a Denver Metro woman who spent two hours in the ER and was hit with facility fees of $650 and $7,000. It doesn’t say if this was a Centura hospital. Do other hospitals do this? 

The article ended with comments by Centura president and CEO Peter Banko. “Price is only one small part of the equation,” he said. “We’ve been able to partner with health plans and deliver greater savings and more affordability.” How do these facility fees fit in there?

Because of this corporate rip off, I’ve suggested people should schedule their health care with someone other than Mercy if an alternative is available. Is it true that the facility charge is only applied when there is no local alternative? I had an office visit with another provider located in the Mercy complex in late fall. I got the bill for that visit, but so far no facility fee bill. There are local alternatives to that provider.

Fortunately, an alternative is available for a test I need, and I’ll be doing that at Animas Surgical Hospital. 

– Carole McWilliams, Bayfield