Chandler woman upset with unexpected lab bill

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

PHOENIX -- Penny Holubowski says she only wanted one thing for Christmas this past holiday season: She wanted her $435 laboratory-bill dispute to go away.

"It is consuming me," she said. "It seems like such a simple fix." When Holubowski turned 65 last year, she qualified for Medicare health coverage. The coverage came with an immediate perk.

"They offer you, when you get Medicare, a 'Welcome to Medicare' physical," she explained.

Holubowski is right. In fact, the preventative exam is on Medicare's website, which says the exam is "free" with "no co-payment" and "no deductible."

Holubowski said a friend had that exam performed at Ocotillo Internal Medicine and recommended she go there, too. She did. "So, I made my appointment, my ‘Welcome to Medicare’ appointment,” Holubowski recalled. “I even stated that it was my ‘Welcome to Medicare’ exam when I made my appointment."

Holubowski showed up for her appointment and told the staff at the medical practice that she was there for her "Welcome to Medicare" exam, which included a blood test.

Holubowski says the exam went fine. Later, however, she received laboratory bill for $435

“So much for that free exam,” Holubowski said.

She thought the bill was a mistake and disputed it several times, but claims Ocotillo Internal Medicine stopped calling her back.

"I even thought about making an appointment with the doctor so I can say, 'Hey, nothing is wrong with me, but can we talk about why you can't fix this bill?'" Holubowski said.

After a year of disputing the bill, Holubowski contacted 3 On Your Side.

An attorney for Ocotillo Internal Medicine sent 3 On Your Side a four-page letter stating Ocotillo Internal Medicine "has a strict protocol of informing patients that it is not the company's practice to perform the ‘Welcome to Medicare’ exam."

Holubowski says she was never told that when she made her appointment or when she arrived for her visit.

The letter goes on to say that Ocotillo Internal Medicine does not bill "Welcome to Medicare" visits but instead bills as a routine medical exam because their exams are more thorough. Again, something Holubowski says she was never told.

Finally, Holubowski apparently signed a document when she checked in for her appointment stating she would pay for any medical or laboratory expenses not covered, which explains why she is personally on the hook for that bill.

Holubowski says she is surprised and disappointed to be stuck with a lab bill, something she believes should fall under the "Welcome to Medicare" exam.

"This is money that I will either have to put on a charge card or take out of my 401K,” she said. “But, I shouldn't have to. That's the bottom line."

Holubowski says she thought she did everything right, but looking back, she wishes she had asked the doctor's office more questions in advance so this ordeal never happened.

Click here for a PDF of the unedited four-page letter from Ocotillo Internal Medicine's attorney.