CLEVELAND — There are new claims that a major healthcare system in our area charged drastically different prices for the very same tests at its locations.
A woman from Akron as been fighting hundreds of dollars in charges after finding out her lab work bill could have been much lower.
Cindy Fitzgerald, 50, said she was blindsided by University Hospitals. “I feel betrayed,” said Fitzgerald. “I was told something that wasn’t true by one of their employees.”
She told us she was at her doctor’s office trying to schedule blood work with a UH concierge via a video call. “I was told by the concierge there would be no difference…no difference in price, no issues with insurance,” said Fitzgerald.
She normally uses the UH Fairlawn location because it’s closer to her home. However, she recently got a job in Streetsboro. So, one day last March, she used the UH Streetsboro facility, which is closer to work. She later got a bill for $873. She said the same tests would be been much cheaper at Fairlawn. “My insurance would have been billed $159.85,” she told us.
Fitzgerald said UH told her she is out of luck. She has to pay.
She is worried about other patients, too. “(People that) have been paying these ridiculously high rates and probably have no idea that if they drive 30 minutes southwest, it would save them $700,” said a frustrated Fitzgerald.
After 5 On Your Side Investigators initially contacted UH, Fitzgerald said she heard from the UH financial department. However, it said, again, UH would not be making any adjustments to her bill.
Her charges have been sent to collections. “How many other people is this happening to?” Fitzgerald questioned.
She’s now calling on Ohio legislators to create a law that would address these kinds of prices that are so far apart but are for the same tests. “To charge the same rate, for the same procedure across all of their locations,” said Fitzgerald.
“(Patients) should not be these inequities within a system,” said Ohio Senator Nickie Antonio from Lakewood. She has been on the Health and Human Services Committee for years. She told us she wants to now learn more from the hospital association or the provider network associations about this kind of billing differentiation. “And say are you aware of this? And tell me if you’re aware, how are you addressing it?” said Senator Antonio. “And if you weren’t aware, I want to make you aware. And how will you address it?”
The senator said sometimes it takes just one individual stepping forward to make new laws. “ Legislation that I’ve been fortunate enough to pass, many times has started with one person bringing an issue to me, to my office and saying, ‘This is a problem,’” said Senator Antonio.
Fiztgerald said she wants you to be aware of the prices you’re paying. She then put her $700 difference in bills into perspective especially now. “That’s more than one individual’s stimulus amount,” she said.
UH did send us a statement about this situation:
“We regret and apologize for any misunderstandings that might have occurred in this instance.
For many multifaceted reasons, there can be differences in the costs of procedures and services depending on the location and setting where care is provided. A good example is that care can be delivered at a lower cost at an Urgent Care than in an Emergency Department, which has different level of staffing, technology, ancillary services and resources available.
University Hospitals is working to improve the experience of our patients through price transparency.
In September, UH launched the UH Hospital Price Estimator, an online self-service tool that helps patients better understand their cost of hospital health care services before services are performed. Patients who prefer to talk with our staff can also call 1-866-771-7266 to obtain estimates and discuss estimated out-of-pocket costs and other patient service options.
Our Financial Counseling and Customer Service departments are prepared to talk with and assist our patients. Customer Service agents can be reached 216-844-8299 or toll-free 1-800-859-5906, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.”
However, we did not take no for an answer asking one last time what about the accountability factor of the UH employee telling Fitzgerald there would be no difference in cost?
The very next day, Fitzgerald got a call. “They went ahead and adjusted the bill to what it would have been,” said Fitzgerald.
She told us UH did the right thing and offered to charge her what she would have paid at the Fairlawn location. It’s about $160 instead of nearly $900.
She thanked 5 On Your Side Investigators for their help.
“You fought for me,” Fitzgerald told us. “You really seemed to understand the situation…and it’s just now getting resolved and only because I reached out to you. I couldn’t be happier.”
Your fight is our fight.