Parents say they received surprise bill after delivering at Brookwood

More than a dozen parents contacted WBRC FOX6 after getting a bill for $378 from Hearing Screening Associates
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 10:44 AM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - One day in late October, Kara Van Abel got a bill for $378 for a newborn hearing screening. Her newborn is now walking and talking.

“Say I’m 1-and-a-half,” said Van Abel, holding her daughter, Rayna.

Lucky Ernst got her bill from Hearing Screening Associates 16 months after her son was born at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.

“It was the first bill we received from them, period.”

Elizabeth Brasher’s daughter, Elle, was born in January. Her bill for $378 arrived in August.

“It was a complete surprise,” she said.

All three women are second-time moms and thought they knew what to expect.

They all delivered at other hospitals for their first children and there were no out-of-pocket costs for the newborn hearing screenings.

“My son will be 4 in January. We gave birth at a hospital in Montgomery with him, and we had a newborn hearing screening there with him, actually twice, and that was fully covered,” explained Brasher.

Brasher’s insurance hasn’t changed. Neither have the other women’s policies with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBS). Brookwood Hospital is in-network but BCBS said Hearing Screening Associates is not.

“I did all the right things. I picked an in-network hospital, I picked an in-network doctor, I did everything I could foreseeably foresee,” said Brasher.

But still, she and at least a dozen other parents have contacted WBRC FOX6 after getting a surprise bill.

Brookwood did not make anyone available for an interview about this issue, but said in a statement: “We regret that our patients are being contacted by this former hospital vendor. At no point has Brookwood been out of network with the payor. We attempted to work with Hearing Screening Associates for the benefit of our patients, but they ended our contract with them. We have no dispute with these patients, and those who received a bill from Hearing Screening Associates should contact them directly to reach an amicable solution.”

A representative from Hearing Screening Associates said it does not comment on contract issues, or an individual patient’s bill.

BCBS said it is the hospital’s responsibility to make sure the providers it contracts with are in-network.

“I think there is a disconnect between the company, Blue Cross and Brookwood. I don’t know who knew what,” said Brasher.

Van Abel said she tried to get the hospital to answer that question.

“I started in billing and kind of worked my way up and then the final phone numbers I was given in administration, no one answered so I left a message, and it was actually the woman who had given me the numbers who returned my call… that afternoon to explain the situation with me all over again,” said Van Abel.

“They’re basically operating on a loop.”

Ernst added, “[We’re] concerned why our insurance wouldn’t cover this, and concerned why the hospital would commission a third-party group that doesn’t accept the most popular insurance in the state.”

Van Abel has paid her bill for $378 but wants Brookwood to reimburse the expense.

“This hospital said it isn’t their responsibility but they’re the ones who wrote the contract with Hearing Screening Associates. If they didn’t write a contract that specified they needed to use in-network doctors, that’s their responsibility,” she said.

All three women said they were told they would not be allowed to leave the hospital until their children underwent a newborn hearing screening. These screenings are required by state law, and while the Alabama Department of Public Health recommends the tests are done within 48 hours of birth, state law allows up to one month.

Congress passed the No Surprises Act last year which provides new consumer protections against surprise billing. It goes into effect next year.

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