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NICU bill installment plan: That'll be $45,843 a month for 12 months, please

Victoria Knight, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Total Bill: AdventHealth Orlando billed $660,553 for Dorian’s NICU care. Because of an insurance snafu, the “patient responsibility” portion of the bill sent to the Bennetts was $550,124. They were offered an installment payment plan of $45,843 a month for 12 months.

What Gives: Under the 2010 health law, nonprofit hospitals are required to provide financial assistance to help patients pay their bills, and payment plans can be part of that assistance. But the Bennett family’s experience shows the system is still far from friendly to patients.

The installment amount offered to the Bennetts — $45,843 — resembles an annual salary more than a reasonable monthly payment. The laughably unrealistic plan was apparently automatically generated by the hospital’s billing system. A spokesperson for the hospital, David Breen of AdventHealth, did not answer KHN’s questions about its billing software or why a five-digit monthly payment was not flagged by the hospital as a problem that might need extra attention.

The size of the Bennetts’ bill stems from two overlapping issues: Baby Dorian was born in 2020 and needed hospital care into 2021, and Bisi Bennett’s employer shifted its health plan to a different company in January 2021. She informed AdventHealth about the change.

As someone who works in the insurance industry, Bennett was pretty sure that she understood the mix-up and that the charge of more than half a million dollars was unjustified.

But as Dorian turned a year old last month, the family still had bills pending and a tangle of red tape to fight.

 

AdventHealth bundled the 2020 and 2021 dates of Dorian’s NICU stay and then billed both insurance plans for the whole stay. Both insurance plans said the bill contained dates of care when Dorian was not covered, so neither paid the hospital. The shift from one year to the next flummoxed three large business entities, which seemed unmotivated to resolve the problem quickly.

“A bill this large is a huge crisis for the family, but it’s not a huge crisis for the insurance company or for the hospital,” said Erin Fuse Brown, an associate professor of law at Georgia State University who studies health care policy.

In 2020, Dorian was covered under a UnitedHealthcare plan, which for in-network providers had a $6,000 deductible and $6,000 out-of-pocket maximum for the family.

In 2021, Bisi Bennett’s employer switched its third-party administrator of its self-funded plan from UnitedHealthcare to UMR. The deductible and out-of-pocket maximum did not change.

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