Getting Results: Brookwood now working on solution for hearing screening surprise bills
More than a dozen parents contacted WBRC On Your Side Investigators after getting $378 bill from Hearing Screening Associates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – The Dixons’ frustration after receiving a surprise bill for a newborn hearing screening is tripled. Matt’s wife, Melissa, delivered triplets at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in September 2020 and a year later, they got the first bill from Hearing Screening Associates.
“How did we end up with a bill that we didn’t see coming?,” asked Matt Dixon.
He added, “[My wife] painstakingly researched each of the doctors she was supposed to see, made sure everything was in-network, we lined it up as well as we thought it could have and it just contributed to our frustration.”
The Dixons are insured through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Brookwood Baptist Medical Center is an in-network facility, but the provider who performed the hearing screening, Hearing Screening Associates, is not.
“This has been a longstanding problem,” said Chuck Bell, Programs Director, Consumer Reports.
He added, “When you are in an in-network facility, you really should be seeing in-network providers, and the provider or hospital should be alert you if there is going to be any surprise bill for your care.”
Bell is a Programs Director for Consumer Reports, an advocacy group working to alert and protect people from issues like surprise billing. He’s closely followed the No Surprises Act, which was passed by Congress three months after Dixon’s triplets were born.
“These new rules will protect consumers when they go to an emergency room, when they have a scheduled procedure that’s in-network to their health plan, and to when they have air ambulance transportation, when they’re transported by aircraft in an emergency or non-emergency situation,” explained Bell.
The law is intended to end surprise billing by adding protections for consumers and setting new procedures insurance companies, hospitals and providers have to follow.
“What has to happen going forward is if an out-of-network physician is practicing in the hospital, and the consumer encounters that patient, they will have to work out the bill with your insurance company without the consumer being in the middle of that dispute. So, the patient would only be responsible for their expected in-network cost sharing of their co-payment, deductible and any co-insurance but nothing beyond that,” said Bell.
This legislation went into effect on January 1, 2022 and these new protections aren’t retroactive and won’t help Dixon’s current situation.
“But these providers knew that the new laws were going into effect, so in a sense, it’s not ethical to have overcharged the patients in this way and to have surprised them with an out-of-network charge,” said Bell. “We hope that those situations can be resolved over the next couple of months.”
After initially telling WBRC Fox6 parents like Dixon should reach out to Hearing Screening Associates to reach an “amicable solution,” Brookwood is now working to reach its own solution.
In a statement, a spokesperson said, “We regret that our patients are being contacted by this former hospital vendor. At no point has Brookwood Baptist Health been out of network with the payer. We are working with Hearing Screening Associates and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama to reach a solution that releases our patients from any financial obligation.”
Brookwood did not provide any additional information, or direction for parents, only to advise them to wait for an update.
Bell said parents who received one of these surprise bills should still file a complaint with the Alabama Department of Insurance because until they get anything official, they could be sent to collections by the provider over an unpaid bill.
He suggests parents include the statement from Brookwood in their complaint.
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