UVM Medical Center backtracks on questionable bills

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) WCAX Investigates questionable billing from Vermont's largest hospital network.

Late Friday afternoon, the UVM Medical Center announced it's backtracking on thousands of dollars in medical bills that it sent out recently to patients for procedures dating back to 2017.

Their announcement comes after a WCAX investigation into those bills, which nearly 2,000 patients got last month. One of those patients came to our Cat Viglienzoni looking for answers.

"It just seems crazy that we can't rely that 'paid in full' is 'paid in full,'" said Dennis Grover of Burlington.

That was Grover's reaction to getting a new bill from UVM Medical Center nearly 20 months after he sent in payment. He'd gone in for lab work in early 2017, then submitted the full amount-- $155.47-- in May. Fast forward to December 2018 and he was told he now owes another $56.09. He said he was told it was due to an internal billing error between his then-insurer, MVP, and the medical center.

"It says it was paid in full at that time," Grover said. "You can't change your bill at this point in time, 20 months later."

That's when he reached out to WCAX News to have us look into it. And he wasn't the only one. Several others of you contacted us, too, saying that you had gotten those bills and felt something wasn't right. So we went to the medical center and MVP for answers.

"We're very sorry that they received a bill that goes back that far. That certainly wasn't our intent. Our intent was actually to get money into the hands of patients," said Rick Vincent, the UVM Medical Center's senior vice president and CFO.

Vincent says back in 2017, their systems realized MVP was overpaying them. But that it took MVP a while to fix that. And when they did, the medical center and insurer realized many patients had actually overpaid. So the medical center reprocessed the claims based on MVP's data.

"We assumed that the only thing that we were actually doing was refunding patients," Vincent said.

Many did get refunds-- 2,700 patients got a total of $170,000 back. But 1,900 got bills totaling $44,000-- bills the hospital claims it didn't know were going out. A day after we called to ask, MVP and the medical center told us they will be splitting that cost. And MVP will let customers know.

"They won't have to pay them," Vincent said.

Vermont Health Care Advocate Mike Fisher is concerned that if patients hadn't complained, they would have forked over the money, money they shouldn't have had to pay.

"Lots of Vermonters pay those bills even if they think they are in error," Fisher said.

But he says this is an example of a case where patients should ask questions and call his office for help. He says he's glad to see the medical center and MVP decide patients should not have to pay for something that was not their fault.

"Evidently, they have spent a little time looking at it and they've done the right thing," Fisher said.

So what should you do if you have one of these bills? The medical center says to ignore it. You don't have to pay. Or call their billing department if you have questions. If you already paid it, they'll give you back your money. And if you got a refund, it's yours to keep.

Health Care Advocate Hotline: 1-800-917-7787 or go to https://vtlawhelp.org/health.