And Then Alameda Hospital Shit the Bed

WTF is up with this new billing tactic?

From: [me]
Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 11:51 AM
To: ''
Cc: ''; ''
Subject: Unacceptable Billing Office Practices

Dear Alameda Hospital,
I recently visited your ER when pain from an ovarian cyst had gotten so out of hand that my doctor in San Francisco thought it best to immediately rule out appendicitis, so I came in and was treated well by your ER physicians and nurses. A week later, I had an MRI at your hospital so my doctor at UCSF would have even more info before performing abdominal surgery (not laparoscopic) to remove the cyst (about 10cm) and the ovary it was attached to. That was just three weeks ago.

This morning I received four phone calls from your billing office – four calls in the span of 10 minutes by two different people (Charmelle? and Crystal) – two on my home phone and two on my cell phone, the number for which I now regret sharing with your staff. I had been in the middle of a much needed nap, as I am still recovering from surgery, when these calls woke me up. It’s almost impossible to find time during the day to sleep, so thanks for ruining what was the only opportunity I had.

I managed to answer the second call on my home phone and talked to Charmelle, I think it was, who wanted to speak with me about my outstanding balance. I informed her that I’d not yet received a bill. She said the bill was mailed out yesterday, so I should be receiving it soon. I asked her why she was calling me before I’d even received the bill. She didn’t have a good reason, but simply explained that this is what you do. You mail the bill, then the very next day you start hounding your patients like rabid collection agents. One might expect such practices from a rent-to-own furniture store, but not a hospital that is supposed to be in the business of providing care.

I realize the state of health care in our country is in crisis, but to treat patients in this way is unacceptable. I am self-employed and when I invoice clients I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, call them the day after I send them a bill and ask them when they’re going to pay up, let alone call them four times in 10 minutes. If I did, do you realize how many clients I would have? Zero. Which is how many times I will visit your hospital in the future unless I am bleeding out my eyes and only because I cannot see well enough to find another hospital, end up at yours by mistake.

This is disappointing. I received such good care from your physicians and nurses that I thought very highly of your hospital. I still think highly of your medical staff, but whoever is running your administration and billing offices should be fired, but first, call them repeatedly to ask them what they’re going to do about finding a new job, then fire them.

Do not call me at any number you have on file for me unless the bill you have sent me is not paid within 30 days – that’s thirty with a three zero – after the date on the bill – that is standard, accepted business practice. For every phone call I receive before that 30 days expires, I will delay payment on my bill one day. As you have already placed four calls to me and I’ve not even received the bill, those days will now count as double, so you are now at eight (8) days past thirty when you can expect payment.

Before I go, here’s a thought – send patients a post card (or four) that the bill is coming, if it’s really that important to make sure we don’t forget. A post card won’t disturb anyone still recovering from surgery.

Good day,
- JL

Update! [9/15/11]

I just opened a lovely apology letter from Alameda Hospital (though, hilariously, their bill has yet to arrive).

Their manager of Business Services wrote (typed) me an actual letter, signed with an actual ball-point pen, apologizing for the customer [non] service I received, assuring me that my “concerns have been addressed.”

She went on to say “Based on the feedback you have provided, staff has been counseled and educated regarding their account review process, and reminded to allow for adequate written notification to our patients from both the insurance companies and our facility.”

How nice.  She also wished me a speedy and healthy recovery.
Sometimes it does pay to complain loudly and with great force!