The Case of the Two Grace Elliotts: A Medical Billing Thriller

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Earlier this 12 months, Grace Elizabeth Elliott acquired a mysterious hospital invoice for medical care she had by no means obtained.

She quickly found how far a clerical error can attain — even throughout a continent — and the way irritating it may be to repair.

Throughout a school break in 2013, Elliott, then 22, started to really feel faint and feverish whereas visiting her dad and mom in Venice, Florida, about an hour south of Tampa. Her mom, a nurse, drove her to a facility that locals knew merely as Venice Hospital.

Within the emergency division, Elliott was recognized with a kidney an infection and held in a single day earlier than being discharged with a prescription for antibiotics, a standard therapy for the sickness.

“My hospital invoice was about $100, which I bear in mind as a result of that was some huge cash for me as an undergrad,” mentioned Elliott, now 31.

She recovered and ultimately moved to California to show preschool. Venice Regional Medical Middle was purchased by Group Well being Programs, based mostly in Franklin, Tennessee, in 2014 and ultimately renamed ShorePoint Well being Venice.

The kidney an infection and in a single day keep within the ER would have been little greater than a reminiscence for Elliott.

Then one other invoice got here.

The Sufferers: Grace E. Elliott, 31, a preschool instructor dwelling along with her husband in San Francisco, and Grace A. Elliott, 81, a retiree in Venice, Florida.

Medical Providers: For Grace E., an emergency division go to and in a single day keep, plus antibiotics to deal with a kidney an infection in 2013. For Grace A., a shoulder alternative and rehabilitation companies in 2021.

Service Supplier: Venice Regional Medical Middle, later renamed ShorePoint Well being Venice.

Complete Invoice: $1,170, the affected person’s duty for shoulder alternative companies, after changes and funds of $13,210.21 by a well being plan with no connection to Elliott. The preliminary fees had been $123,854.14.

What Provides: This can be a case of mistaken id, a billing thriller that began at a hospital registration desk and didn’t finish till months after the file had been handed over to a group company.

Early this 12 months, Grace E. Elliott’s mom opened a invoice from ShorePoint Well being Venice that was addressed to her daughter and sought greater than $1,000 for latest hospital companies, Elliott mentioned. She “instantly knew one thing was incorrect.”

Months of sleuthing ultimately revealed that the invoice was meant for Grace Ann Elliott, a a lot older lady who underwent a shoulder alternative process and rehabilitation companies on the Venice hospital final 12 months.

Consultants mentioned that accessing the incorrect affected person’s file due to a reputation mix-up is a standard error — however one for which safeguards, like checking a affected person’s picture identification, normally exist.

The hospital had handled no less than two Grace Elliotts. When Grace A. Elliott confirmed up for her shoulder alternative, a hospital worker pulled up Grace E. Elliott’s account by mistake.

“That is the form of factor that may positively occur,” mentioned Shannon Hartsfield, a Florida legal professional who makes a speciality of well being care privateness violations. (Hartsfield doesn’t characterize anybody concerned on this case.) “Every kind of human errors occur. A employee can pull up the names, click on the incorrect button, after which not test [the current patient’s] date of delivery to substantiate.”

It was a seemingly apparent error: The youthful Elliott was billed for a process she didn’t have by a hospital she had not visited in years. However it took her practically a 12 months of hours-long telephone calls to undo the injury.

A Florida well being system charged Grace E. Elliott for a shoulder alternative at a hospital throughout the nation from her house in San Francisco, a hospital she had not visited for years. She didn’t obtain the care however she did obtain the invoice — and the medical information of a stranger.(Shelby Knowles for KHN)

At first, frightened that she had been the sufferer of id theft, Grace E. Elliott contacted ShorePoint Well being Venice and was bounced from one division to a different. At one level, a billing worker disclosed to Elliott the birthdate the hospital had on file for the affected person who had the shoulder alternative — it was not hers. Elliott then despatched the hospital a duplicate of her ID.

It took weeks for an administrator at ShorePoint’s company workplace in Florida to confess the hospital’s error and promise to appropriate it.

In August, although, Grace E. Elliott obtained a discover that the company workplace had bought the debt to a group company known as Medical Information Programs. Regardless that the hospital had acknowledged its error, the company was coming after Grace E. Elliott for the stability due for Grace A. Elliott’s shoulder surgical procedure.

“I believed, ‘Properly, I’ll simply work with them immediately,’” Grace E. Elliott mentioned.

Her enchantment was denied. Medical Information Programs mentioned in its denial letter that it had contacted the hospital and confirmed the identify and handle on file. The company additionally included a duplicate of Grace A. Elliott’s expired driver license to Grace E. — together with a number of pages of the older lady’s medical data — in help of its conclusion.

“A set company, as a enterprise affiliate of a hospital, has an obligation to make sure that the incorrect affected person’s data is just not shared,” Hartsfield mentioned.

In an e-mail to KHN, Cheryl Spanier, a vice chairman of the gathering company, wrote that “MDS follows all state and federal guidelines and rules.” Spanier declined to touch upon Elliott’s case, saying she wanted the written consent of each the well being system and the affected person to take action.

Elliott’s second enchantment was additionally denied. She was advised to contact the hospital to clear up the difficulty. However as a result of the well being system had lengthy since bought the debt, Elliott mentioned, she acquired no traction in making an attempt to get ShorePoint Well being Venice to assist her. The hospital closed in September.

Decision: In mid-November, shortly after a reporter contacted ShorePoint Well being, which operates different hospitals and services in Florida, Grace E. Elliott obtained a name from Stanley Padfield, the Venice hospital’s outgoing privateness officer and director of well being data administration. “He mentioned, ‘It’s taken care of,’” Elliott mentioned, including that she was relieved however skeptical. “I’ve heard that again and again.”

Elliott mentioned Padfield advised her that she had turn out to be listed as Grace A. Elliott’s guarantor, that means she was legally liable for the debt of a girl she had by no means met.

Elliott quickly obtained a letter from Padfield stating that ShorePoint Well being had eliminated her data from Grace A. Elliott’s account and confirmed that she had not been reported to any credit score businesses. The letter mentioned her data had been faraway from the gathering company’s database and acknowledged that the hospital’s repair initially “was not appropriately communicated” to collections.

Padfield mentioned the error began with a “registration clerk,” who he mentioned had “obtained extra privateness training on account of this incident.”

Devyn Brazelton, advertising and marketing coordinator for ShorePoint Well being, advised KHN the hospital believes the error was “an remoted incident.”

Utilizing the date of delivery offered by a hospital employee, Elliott was in a position to contact Grace A. Elliott and clarify the mix-up.

“I’m a bit upset proper now,” Grace A. Elliott advised KHN on the day she realized concerning the billing error and disclosure of her medical data.

A photo shows Grace E. Elliott sitting on a couch at home, petting her dog.
(Shelby Knowles for KHN)

The Takeaway: Grace E. Elliott mentioned that when she requested Padfield, the Venice hospital’s outgoing privateness officer, whether or not she may have executed one thing to battle such an apparent case of mistaken id, he replied, “Most likely not.”

This, consultants mentioned, is the darkish secret of id points: As soon as a mistake has been entered right into a database, it may be remarkably tough to repair. And such incorrect data can dwell for generations.

For sufferers, which means it’s essential to evaluation the knowledge on affected person portals — the web medical profiles many suppliers use to handle issues like scheduling appointments, organizing medical information, and answering affected person questions.

One draw back of digital medical information is that errors unfold simply and repeat continuously. It is very important problem and proper errors in medical information early and forcefully, with each little bit of documentation out there. That’s true whether or not the issue is an incorrect identify, a drugs not (or by no means) taken, or an inaccurate prognosis.

The method of amending a report may be “very concerned,” Hartsfield mentioned. “However with sufferers ready now to see increasingly more of their medical information, they’re going to need these amendments, and well being programs and their associated entities must get ready for that.”

Grace A. Elliott advised KHN that she had obtained a name from ShorePoint Well being in the last few months indicating that she owed cash for her shoulder alternative.

She requested for a duplicate of the invoice, she advised KHN. Months after she requested, it nonetheless hadn’t arrived.

Invoice of the Month is a crowdsourced investigation by KHN and NPR that dissects and explains medical payments. Do you will have an attention-grabbing medical invoice you need to share with us? Inform us about it!

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially impartial service of the California Well being Care Basis.

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