For Judith Camann, paying her medical bill became another pain, when a series of billing mixups and miscommunication ended up in a lawsuit.
Camann was treated twice last year at St. Anne’s Hospital in Burien. She received a $765 bill from Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Pennsylvania, asking her to send a check to an address for Franciscan Health System in California.
“It’s a real scary thing,” Camann said. “I paid the money the week the bill came in.”
However, her automatic bill payment sent the check to the Virginia Mason Clinic in Seattle, where it was accepted and deposited.
Camann thought she was good until her phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
“I finally picked one up and it was the first one from the hospital asking me about the bill,” Camann said. “I was, like, I paid that.”
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health said it spoke with Camann for months about the bill.
“Every time I got a bill, I would call and say, ‘No,’” Camann said.
Camann offered to meet with the hospital to figure out the issue. “I said, ‘Where is your building in the Seattle area?’” The hospital said they don’t have anyone in the area, so there was no one for her to talk to.
Next, Camann was sent to collections. So, she called a lawyer.
“It’s frustrating to my client, she just wanted someone to listen,” said Jason Anderson, Camann’s lawyer. “She wanted someone to understand where her money went. She just wanted a basic explanation.”
Anderson filed a suit against Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and the collection agency, saying his client “repeatedly attempted to have VMFH recognize that it had already been paid through an inordinate amount of phone calls, faxes and letters. Each time Ms. Camann was told that more information was needed, or that she would need to speak to another department.”
“Virginia Mason wasn’t really interested in what Ms. Camann had to say about where her money went,” Anderson said.
Jesse Jones called Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, where a spokesperson said the company had two billing systems after its January 2021 merger.
One billing system is for the legacy Franciscan Health System, where St. Anne is included, and the other system belongs to Virginia Mason.
Camann’s bill payment sent the check to Virginia Mason.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for her to send a check to Virginia Mason, which she noticed cleared her bank account and think that her bill had been paid,” Anderson said.
So, what happened to the $765 check?
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health accepted the check because she had an account there but did admit she didn’t owe a bill. It was marked for a refund, but the system did not notify her.
After seven months of calls, and then hiring a lawyer to sue them, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health fixed it all 48 hours after Jesse Jones called.
“The funds were transferred from her Virginia Mason Clinic account to apply it toward her St. Anne Hospital bill,” Virginia Mason Franciscan Health said in a statement. “The bill has also been recalled from collections and a request has been submitted to restore her credit.”
“If they felt it was sent to the wrong account or the wrong address, maybe they should have let her know, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to simply hold on to her money and send her to collections,” Anderson said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”
“I pay my bills. I have good credit and this is crazy making,” Camann said.
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health said it’s fairly common for different facilities within a health system to process billing separately. However, the billing agencies are currently in the process of improving communications to avoid potential misunderstandings like this.
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