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New lawsuit claims Cleveland Clinic uses 'deceptive' billing practices; Clinic responds

Possibility of others joining suit
New lawsuit says Cleveland Clinic uses deceptive billing practices and Clinic responds with general statement.
Posted at 5:25 PM, Nov 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 12:55:45-05

CLEVELAND — There’s a new lawsuit against the Cleveland Clinic that makes bold claims about the Clinic’s business of billing.

“This case challenges the Cleveland Clinic’s unfair and deceptive billing practice of accepting payments for services without providing legally mandated receipts…” reads the lawsuit. It goes on to read, “The Cleveland Clinic routinely ignores (patients’) payments…”

The suit is filed by former patient Amanda Van Brakle. It says she went in for a medical imaging test. Her lawyers said she paid parts of her medical bill, but those payments were not recorded by the Clinic. Plus, the complaint claims the Clinic is not providing critical financial information to patients like Van Brakle and making mistakes.

“Somehow in the process, there are errors in billing,” said attorney Scott Perlmuter. “There are errors in tracking payments that have been made by patients that are resulting in patients being double-billed for procedures.”

They say her bill was “inflated” before it was sent to collections, Van Brakle never got any receipts of payments, and that the Cleveland Clinic is “…hiding the true costs of its health services…”

“This is not a problem that is unique to Amanda Van Brakle,” said Perlmuter.

Our Diagnosis: Debt series has shown various billing problems at Cleveland Clinic.

“It was $57,000 and some change,” said Dan Mascarenhas, from Mentor, about his bill, which 5 On Your Side Investigators got involved with. Problems were found. The Clinic changed the bill.

“An hour or two after I talked to you, Cleveland Clinic called me and reversed all the collections,” said Mascarenhas.

We also highlighted Cleveland Clinic charges that Mr. and Mrs. Sears from Shaker Heights had problems with. It turned out to be a coding error, and the nearly $10,000 bill when down to $1,000.

“It’s outrageous,” said Maurice Sears during our story. “I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” describing the big bill.

And even with Van Brakle’s new case, her own attorney said he, too, has been a victim of billing issues with Cleveland Clinic.

“It’s a frustrating process,” said Dan Myers. He told us about his infant daughter’s recent immunization that should have been covered by insurance. He showed us the paperwork. It was denied at first.

He said he paid the bill after getting a couple of notices from Cleveland Clinic, but his insurance eventually did pay the Clinic, too. “(The Clinic) never offered to return the money to us. They never told us they had it. They never told us they got this extra payment,” said Myers.

Because of people’s past problems with Cleveland Clinic billing, the attorneys are filing for class-action status so other frustrated patients could possibly join in against the Clinic.

"This is not about the care the patients have received, but rather the business of that medical care. (The Clinic) has mastered the art of practicing medicine which seems a much more difficult prospect than billing your patients properly for care that you provided,” said Perlmuter.

Here’s what the Cleveland Clinic sent us after denying us an on-camera interview:

Hi Jonathan - we are unable to comment on cases in current litigation, but can offer some general info for you.

As a non-profit healthcare system, we offer assistance to those having difficulty paying their medical bills. Our billing and collections practices are consistent with standards for nonprofit healthcare systems.

Estimates for care are available to patients when scheduling surgical and diagnostic services and upon request for all other services. We recently updated and expanded our patient self-service module where, either through their MyChart account or through Cleveland Clinic’s website (clevelandclinic.org), patients have the ability to produce their own estimates for 300 services considered shoppable between hospital facilities.

More billing and financial assistance information is available on our website at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/patients/billing-finance.

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