A mom says she took her daughter to a walk-in clinic, but was denied treatment simply because a past bill had not been paid.
Are medical facilities allowed to do that? What we learned may surprise you.
Takes daughter with fever into clinic
Jessica Vance wanted to avoid a $1,000-plus emergency room bill when her 8-year-old daughter recently developed a cough and fever.
So she took her to a walk-in clinic inside a local grocery store.
But when Vance spoke to the woman at the desk, she received some stunning news. The employee said Vance had a $690 unpaid balance from an insurance payment that had not yet processed.
So the employee said Vance’s daughter could not see the nurse, and suggested they go to an emergency room if they needed immediate help.
“I said ‘What do you mean you won’t see her?’ ” Vance said. “They told me I have a balance due. I asked them ‘Can’t you call insurance?’ They said no, they could not.”
So she reluctantly put the past due amount on her credit card rather than drive across town to an emergency room — and a much larger bill.
“I ended up having to pay $690 that day for her to be seen,” Vance said.
What federal law says
So can a health clinic refuse to examine a sick little girl, simply because her mom owes money from a past bill?
Contrary to what many families believe, the answer is yes.
Since 1986, the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires doctors to treat patients with an emergency condition before discussing payment, even if they have no way of paying. This is one reason city emergency rooms are so crowded.
But a doctor can refuse treatment if the situation does not appear to be life-threatening, and that happens often, according to a report from NPR.
Vance, though, says the bigger issue is that once her insurance finally paid out a few weeks later, the clinic still hadn’t refunded her $690, more than two months after ending up with a double payment.
When she called, she says, “they said its being processed. Or this person’s not in the office.”
She understands doctors may want to be paid first but says she wants her payment back.
“Now they’ve got payments from my insurance and payments from me, so they’ve got double payments.”
The clinic apologized for the delay and promised to resolve this billing issue, even though it did nothing wrong, according to the law.
Vance is happy to hear that, and now realizes that past-due medical bills — even if not your fault — can become a problem if you are sick.
As always, don’t waste your money.