March 20, 2023

When it comes to paying medical bills in the United States, more and more people are struggling with keeping up with their monthly payments. Although health insurance definitely helps, it doesn’t usually cover the full bill, forcing people to figure out how they are going to pay for their medical bills on top of all of their other monthly expenses. This is something that mother Bisi Bennett has come to learn all too well.

In Nov. 2020, Bennett gave birth to her first child named Dorian. She was only seven months pregnant at the time, so she was surprised when she felt a contraction around midnight on Nov. 12, 2020. Her husband Chris quickly began driving her to the AdventHealth hospital in Orlando, Florida, but it seemed like the universe had other plans in store for the family, and Bennett gave birth in the family’s car. However, when Dorian had been born prematurely, his head emerged last.

Fortunately, the family was able to flag down a passing emergency vehicle and were quickly escorted to the hospital, with Dorian and Bennett still connected by the umbilical cord. Finally, they made it to the hospital and found that Dorian had a pulse, but was hurriedly rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. He stayed there until Jan. 7, 2021.

While Dorian had been in the NICU, Bennett’s health insurance plan changed from one provider to another. She hadn’t been worried about the cost – just about her son’s health. After Dorian was finally discharged, Bennett was shocked when she received a hospital bill for more than $500,000, with monthly installments of about $46,000.

Following his premature birth, Dorian spent 56 days in the NICU and received highly technical, lifesaving respiratory and nutritional care, according to NPR. After he was finally released, Bennett felt relieved, that is until the bills came.

Bennett works as a licensed property insurance agent with AssuredPartners and has health care through work. However, her provider switched during the time her son was still in the NICU, and the hospital mistakenly charged the full stay to both providers, resulting in a final bill of $660,553, with Bennett responsible for paying $550,124.

After contacting the hospital about the mistake, the Bennett family was offered an installment plan of $45,843 a month for 12 months, according to NPR.

“It was ridiculous, I don’t have $46,000 to pay a month,” Bennett said, as per the Daily Mail. She added, “I called the hospital several times to let them know: ‘Hey, you’re lumping the bill together, you need to split it out.’”

NPR reported that AdventHealth said the problem would be corrected in March 2021, but Bennett still received the same pricey bill in Sep. 2021. On top of trying to figure out how to pay her atrocious bill for her son’s premature birth, Bennett also had to help her husband Chris with his treatment for stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer, which was diagnosed in April 2021.

Erin Fuse Brown, who studies healthcare policy and is an associate professor of law at Georgia State University, told NPR:

“It’s indicative of all the ways the system fails the patient … Even the one who does everything right.”

In the nearly yearlong battle to have things corrected, Bennett said she felt like she was going crazy. She told NPR:

“They’re in charge of billing, and I shouldn’t be the one having to tell them, ‘Bill my one insurance for dates in 2020 and bill my other insurance for dates in 2021,’ but I did … I kept having the same conversation over and over.”

Fortunately, the issue was finally corrected in Sep. 2021, and the total payment was knocked down to $300, along with her $6,000 deductible, according to the Daily Mail. The hospital also apologized “for the frustration this has caused” Bennett and her family.

Bennett’s situation went viral for a number of reasons but it showed the extent that was necessary to correct what should not have been such a major issue. “This shows how little leverage or power a patient has in this situation,” Fuse Brown told NPR. She added, “You almost have to go outside the system and put external pressure.”

In a video interview with CBS Mornings, Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal, who is the editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News gave advice to anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation as Bennett. She explained that since most systems are automated, “healthcare has kind of a Y2K problem.” This means that at the end of the year when patients’ deductibles reset, their plans might change or the provider network might change, errors such as these can occur. Therefore she recommends keeping an eye out for such things.

Furthermore, she recommended that if you have a problem to go to the company’s HR department, “because your company has much more leverage with these insurers than you do individually.”

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