Hospital billing errors corrected

HILO — Hilo Medical Center has confirmed that Hawaii Health Systems Corp. has completed sending customers corrected billing statements after errors were uncovered in September.

“Two weeks ago, we sent out revised and corrected statements. Preliminary results and feedback have been positive so far,” hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said Thursday.

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Most of the incorrect bills went to patients treated at Hilo Medical Center. But some also went to patients of Ka‘u Hospital and Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua.

In some cases, insurance payments already made had not been subtracted from the total due, making the total for the patient’s responsibility appear extraordinarily high.

The 188 medical bills that were in error have now been corrected, with a separate statement sent directly to patients’ homes with revised totals, Cabatu said.

For the three-day period in September when the hospital indicated the billing errors happened, 4,700 bills were mailed. However, some patients had questioned their bills as early as February.

In an interview earlier this fall about the billing corrections, HHSC Regional Chief Executive Officer Dan Brinkman said billing is complex because patients often have more than one type of insurance — private, supplemental, veteran benefits, Medicare or Medicaid.

All of the different insurance streams must be peeled away before the final amount due — the patient’s out-of-pocket cost — gets calculated.

Each patient’s account eventually gets “zeroed out,” Brinkman said, and must conform to professional accounting standards.

Billing errors get reported to HHSC and hospitals quickly, he said, because patients call when an unusual total shows up on a billing statement.

A slip of paper added to the corrected Hilo Medical Center, Ka‘u Hospital and Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua bills sent out this month says, “we would like to bring your attention to the recent statement you may have received in September. Some patient balances may not have been accurate, but only affected a small number of recipients.”

The note says totals due have been updated and now include “the correct balance.”

In one 2013 study of Medicare billing nationally, 49 percent of hospital bills reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General contained an error.

We Care/Patient Bill Advocates in California told the Tribune-Herald this year that possible causes of such errors can include inexperienced staff, revenue cycle mismanagement and too many hands in the accounts-receivable workflow.

Hilo Medical Center’s billing is handled by Healthcare Resource Group, an independent vendor that provides billing services as a contractor.

“We encourage our patients to review their statements and call the number on the statement if anyone has questions or needs clarification,” Cabatu said.

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That number is 1 (855) 888-0215.

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