On Your Side helps a Valley teacher unravel a medical bill mix-up

The bill was for about $1,000 and it went on so long that it ended up in collections. On Your Side stepped in to help.
Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 11:10 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — In May, Devon Hawkins was in a lot of pain. She decided to go to the Abrazo Peoria Emergency Center for help. Fortunately, she wasn’t there long. She paid her bill and went home, but soon, another bill showed up in the mail.

“I noticed that it had somebody else’s name on it,” Hawkins told On Your Side. She immediately contacted Abrazo’s billing department. “There’s not a connection with our names or anything,” Hawkins added. The hospital opened an inquiry and, according to Hawkins, realized the billing mistake. “They refunded my credit card that I had used for the full amount, so I thought everything was fine,” she said. “But I kept getting bills for the same amount as the other patient. The same amount over and over again, so I called them back at least four more times.”

Again, someone from the billing department told her it was handled. It wasn’t. “I got a bill from collections,” Hawkins said. “At this point, I’m worried that it’s going to negatively affect my credit. The fact that I’ve talked to everybody that I possibly can, I’m just hoping that this can get resolved.” She contacted On Your Side. After we got involved, Abrazo escalated the issue. A spokesperson told us they are working to resolve the issue, and in a statement added, “Abrazo strives to provide quality care and excellent customer service. Any inquiries regarding incorrect billing are fully investigated to address patient concerns.”

Abrazo did not answer any of our questions about the potential privacy concerns for Hawkins or the patient whose information was sent to her. “I’m hoping that my information wasn’t given to that patient at the same time because I don’t know if that happened either,” she said.

When it comes to bills landing in collections, consumers have rights. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, debt collectors are only allowed to contact you about valid debts that you owe, so the agency says consumers should always look closely at medical bills to verify information, including name, billing address, and insurance information. The CFPB also says consumers should verify they received the treatments listed on the bill. “Consumer credit records contain a total of $88 billion in reported medical bills,” the agency said on its website. “Medical bills are the most common collections item on people’s credit reports and show up on 43 million credit reports. About one in five households reports that they have unpaid medical bills. What’s more, medical billing, collections, and credit reporting are complex, confusing, and commonly have errors.”

If you receive an erroneous bill that ends up in collections like Hawkins did, you have a right to ask a debt collector to verify the debt. If it is your legitimate debt, then debt collectors are not allowed to report medical bills to credit reporting companies without trying to collect the money from you first, according to the CFPB.