Exposing increasing healthcare costs hidden in your bill

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A local woman reached out to 8News for help after she noticed she had been billed for a medical test she never consented to.

“I woke up that morning at 3 a.m. with symptoms of a urinary tract infection,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. “I have had it before and so I know what it felt like.”

She took some leftover medicine for that UTI until she could get to BetterMed Urgent Care in Chesterfield. Medical records show the doctor agreed it was likely a UTI and, since she was already on antibiotics, no need to test her urine. The doctor has said the results wouldn’t be valid.

But what happened next, left the patient stumped.

“A month later I got a bill for both the urine analysis and a pregnancy test,” she explained.

The patient says there was no way she was pregnant and, if asked, would have told the doctor that. Baffled that BetterMed didn’t disclose the test, she called to question the bill.

“She said it was a standard practice that all women of a childbearing age are subjected to a pregnancy test,” the woman explained.

She even showed us an email from BetterMed stating the same thing. So, 8News called BetterMed and was told it’s their standard policy care because, quote, “Patients don’t always tell the truth.”

“That was my bodily fluids that were sent off without my knowledge or authorization,” the woman added.

She feels it was a violation of her Patient Bill of Rights.

“I have in writing that I have a right to refuse this and a right to make an informed decision,” she said.

8News reached out to Medliminal, a medical billing advocacy group. They tell us patients should have the right to refuse such a test.  The records, in this case, show sexual activity was never even discussed.  However, Medliminal tell us they’re seeing more healthcare providers and ER’s quietly tack on pregnancy tests as part of their standard practice.

We did some checking and Patient First tells us they will never do a pregnancy test without telling the patient.

HCA, meanwhile, sent 8News the following statement:

“HCA Virginia ERs order pregnancy tests for patients when clinically appropriate and prior to certain imaging tests such as x-rays and CT scans. In the course of diagnosing our patients, we routinely order various tests – some may or may not be shared for a variety of reasons, however, we do disclose results.”

Bon Secours declined to share its policy.

The pregnancy test wasn’t the only thing that stood out on the patient’s bill. The medical billing code 99204 was also a red flag. It’s supposed to be for a comprehensive physical exam or a visit lasting more than 45 minutes.
Except from check in to check out, the patient was only at better med for 33 minutes.

Medliminal did an audit of her bill for us and says it looks like non-pertinent information for a UTI exam, such as checking the ears, nose and head, was added to the notes of her visit in an effort to increase the charge to the patient.

8News is told it’s common practice.

“I kind of feel ripped off,” the woman said.

After 8News calls, BetterMed says it is willing to look at the coding again.

What can you do about all of this? Ask if you will be given a pregnancy test and if you don’t want it, you can refuse it.  As for those confusing medical codes that appear on your bill, this website can help decipher them for you.

If what you see still doesn’t make sense to you, the experts say dispute it with your healthcare provider. If you feel like you’re getting the runaround, complain to your insurance company. The patient 8News  spoke with has filed an appeal with her insurance.

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