East Hawaii residents receive hospital billing errors

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HILO — Dozens of East Hawaii hospital patients got eye-popping medical bills last week.

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HILO — Dozens of East Hawaii hospital patients got eye-popping medical bills last week.

Nearly 200 patients served by Hawaii Health Systems Corp. received the “incorrect billing statements” in the mail from a third-party billing vendor called Healthcare Resource Group, Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said.

Cabatu said the bills containing errors went primarily to Hilo Medical Center patients.

But a few of them, she said, also went to patients served by Ka‘u Hospital and Hale Hoola Hamakua during a three-day period in September.

Healthcare Resource Group personnel are calling each affected East Hawaii patient “to instruct them to disregard the incorrect billing statement and that a corrected statement will be sent out,” Cabatu said.

“Healthcare Resource Group is continuing to research if there are any additional accounts that may have been affected,” she said.

One patient, who shared a hospital bill with the Tribune-Herald, was incorrectly billed $2,521 for an emergency-room visit.

The total bill for that visit was $7,411. The discount, typically negotiated by insurance plans, was $4,890. The patient’s insurance paid $2,269.

The correct amount remaining on the bill should have been about $252.

The amount due apparently neglected to subtract the insurance payment.

“We apologize for the inconvenience to these patients,” Cabatu said, “and we are pleased to report that the incorrect billing statements are being expeditiously resolved.”

To put the situation in context, only 188 of the approximately 4,700 people billed on the three affected days received a bill believed to include an error. That’s 4 percent of the bills mailed during that time frame.

Healthcare Resource Group could not be reached for comment.

Big Island consumers are not the only ones who experience health care billing errors.

“These kind of errors can be a result of inexperienced staff, and/or too many hands on the accounts-receivable workflow or mismanagement of the revenue cycle,” said Charlie Cecil, CEO of We Care, Patient Bill Advocates, a California service that helps patients affected by billing errors.

Cecil said the scenario with East Hawaii bills “happens quite frequently” nationwide.

NerdWallet studied the problem in 2013, looking at Medicare “compliance reviews” of U.S. hospitals done by the Office of the Inspector General.

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According to NerdWallet, “rampant” hospital billing errors affected half of bills — 49 percent — and “all of the audited hospitals demonstrated billing errors.”

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.