The “surprise hospital charge” outcry that has surfaced in different parts of the country has come to Western North Carolina, with bewildered patients of Mission Health looking for answers.
Since last fall, Mission Health patients have experienced a new charge on their bills after visits to a primary care office for an annual checkup, blood pressure check or some other routine matter.
When the bill for their visit arrives, there’s a new charge listed: an outpatient fee that can run $100 or more without the patient having set foot in one of Mission’s hospitals or having seen a specialist.
The fee, which some patients say Mission has never explained satisfactorily, affects individuals and families across the region. And in Transylvania County, voices of opposition are growing stronger.
Francis Sconzo, a cook at the residential community of Connestee Falls near Brevard, wants answers.
Before HCA Healthcare acquired Mission Health just over a year ago, “I would just pay my $35 copay and not get another bill,” Sconzo told Carolina Public Press last week.
But after a recent primary care visit, his bill showed him owing $107.20, the “Total Amount for Hospital Services,” payable to “Medical Associates of Transylvania” for “Outpatient Visit — Transylvania Hospital.”
Sconzo said he never went to the hospital, never had outpatient treatment and the primary care office that he visits is physically separate from and nowhere near Transylvania Regional Hospital.
With his wife unable to work due to an injury and with a bill for office visits that’s more than triple his earlier copay, he’s had to begin a payment plan to avoid collection and keep his credit record clean.
“I can buy two weeks of food for $107,” he said. “It’s a very hard financial strain.”
One of Sconzo’s co-workers at Connestee Falls, golf course superintendent Joey Galloway, said he also got hit with the new upcharge.
Last November, Galloway had blood work done at Medical Associates of Transylvania and returned later in the month to review the results. On his way out, he was told that he would get a bill for the copay.
“They actually charged $107 for what used to be a $35 copay office visit,” he said.
“I called the Mission billing office and I just said there must be some mistake … and the girl in the Mission billing office informed me that they would no longer be billing anything as an office visit, that everything would be billed as outpatient services.
“And now, it’s $107 a pop.”
Of the 91 employees at Connestee Falls, 58 full-time employees are insured by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, according to Rocio Borghini, the Connestee Falls Property Owners Association human resources manager.
When a couple of employees expressed surprise about the new, costlier fee and wondered what it represented, Borghini said she contacted Mission’s billing office on behalf of the group.