Valley woman receives surprise hand surgery bill

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Carrie Wallinger got a surprisingly high medical bill after getting her hand taken care of. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Carrie Wallinger got a surprisingly high medical bill after getting her hand taken care of. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Wallinger’s billing problem started after her two dogs got into a fight and she tried to split them up. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Wallinger’s billing problem started after her two dogs got into a fight and she tried to split them up. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
When she checked her mailbox after that visit, she later got a bill that sure didn't seem to be an "in-network" amount. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) When she checked her mailbox after that visit, she later got a bill that sure didn't seem to be an "in-network" amount. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Arizona Center for Hand Surgery never did get back with 3 On Your Side. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Arizona Center for Hand Surgery never did get back with 3 On Your Side. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

A Phoenix woman found herself in the emergency room and even though her hospital was in-network, the doctor who performed her hand surgery is not.

In fact, that doctor is from a facility called the Arizona Center for Hand Surgery and their billing practices have been profiled before by 3 On Your Side.

“Hello, I'm Gary Harper with Channel 3. I've left about five voice mails, and five emails and no one's called me back,” Gary Harper said.

3 On Your Side’s Gary Harper went looking for some answers at a place called the Arizona Center for Hand Surgery regarding a billing dispute. 

That billing dispute has to do with Carrie Wallinger’s situation. 

“I’m physically healed, but I constantly got this anxiety,” Wallinger said.

Wallinger’s billing problem started after her two dogs got into a fight and she tried to split them up.

“The rule of thumb is to never get in the middle of a dogfight, but in the heat of the moment, I did,” Wallinger said.

And that was a mistake because one of the dogs bit her finger.

“I was like, ‘Oh wow!' I thought I was probably gonna have to wrap it up but I looked at it, and I thought, 'Hmmm, this is a hospital visit,’” Wallinger said.

Wallinger went to the hospital that's considered "in-network" with her insurance carrier, UnitedHealthcare.

However, when she checked her mailbox after that visit, she later got a bill that sure didn't seem to be an "in-network" amount.

“Panic! I don't have $9,000 to pay for something like that,” Wallinger said.

Wallinger says that $9,000 bill is from the Arizona Center for Hand Surgery and that's where the doctor came from to stitch up Carrie's finger at the hospital.

But although the hospital is in-network, she says Arizona Center for Hand Surgery is "out-of-network."

As a result, Wallinger says she was told the Arizona Center for Hand Surgery is not accepting the lower "in-network" amount as payment in full and instead is billing her for the remaining balance of almost $9,000.

“The provider has sent me letters making it very clear that whatever the insurance doesn't pay they'll be sending me the bill for,” Wallinger said. 

Arizona Center for Hand Surgery failed to return 3 On Your Side's numerous phone calls and emails, so we showed up at their Phoenix office and asked to speak with someone about their billing practices.

However, after waiting a few minutes, an employee came out from the back, gave Harper his business card back and told Harper to leave the property immediately.

“I'm not permitted to, but I was asked to escort you off the property,” said the employee, who did not give a name. 

"Alright. Then tell whoever needs to know we're doing a news report," responded Gary Harper.  

The Arizona Center for Hand Surgery never did get back with 3 On Your Side, but UnitedHealthcare did in a strongly worded statement. They state: 

"It is egregious that an ER physician, who has already been paid market rates for these services, would attempt to use Ms. Wallinger's emergency as an opportunity to collect even more. Out-of-network balance billing has become a national problem..."  

For now, Wallinger says she has no idea how she's going to pay a bill she says she shouldn't have to pay.  

“It feels like repeatedly beating your head against the wall,” Wallinger said.  

When a doctor or health facility tries to collect the difference between in-network and out-of-network, it's called balance billing and balance billing, for now, anyway is legal here in Arizona.

However, state lawmakers are currently working on a law that would protect consumers.  For more on that, watch 3 On Your Side for a follow-up report we're working on.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

Click to learn more about Gary.

Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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