When Donnice Jackson was rushed to Research Medical Center after an auto accident in June 2011, she worried about her injuries. But the hospital became her biggest aggravation.
It refused to submit its charges to her health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and instead expected her to pay them out of her own pocket. That surprised Jackson because everyone else, from the emergency room physician to the ambulance, filed a claim with her health insurer.
Research is caught up in the controversy involving hospitals that refuse to accept health insurance from patients after auto accidents. The hospitals instead try to get money from car insurance settlements. They often get paid more because they avoid the discounted payments made by health insurers.
If there’s no car insurance settlement, some hospitals directly charge the patient.
In Jackson’s case, debt collectors called her as often as twice a day demanding money, she said. And late last year the hospital sued her in Jackson County Circuit Court seeking to collect the $2,153 bill plus attorney fees and interest.
“They’re supposed to be in the business of healing people,” said Jackson, a 61-year-old grandmother. “But they have made my heart ache.”
Research, part of the HCA hospital chain, said in an email response to a request for comment: “This is a complex issue that affects many hospitals.”
Its lawsuit against Jackson describes the hospital’s position briefly and in language typical for debt collection cases. She owes the $2,153 for goods and services provided at reasonable prices, the suit states.
Jackson recently retained attorneys, who in March filed a counterclaim against the hospital.
Jackson’s countersuit is the second such lawsuit Research is facing. Both suits allege that the hospital, unlike some other hospitals that have also been sued, didn’t even file liens on car insurance settlements. Instead, it went straight to the patient and demanded payment.
The earlier lawsuit still pending against Research asserts that a patient had to borrow money from his parents to pay his bill because the hospital didn’t want to wait for a car insurance settlement.
Jackson never even got a settlement, in part because the driver at fault left the scene of the accident.
Her story was sketched out in an interview, in a review of court documents and in a letter she sent to the judge overseeing the hospital’s suit.
The accident occurred as she was wrapping up a day of shopping with her granddaughter, who needed things for her college dorm room. Two vehicles collided at a Kansas City intersection. One of them swung into Jackson’s car and then sped off, leaving her with injuries to her back and neck. Jackson’s granddaughter was not hurt.
Jackson was treated at Research and discharged with instructions for follow-up care.
Her health insurance card was given to the hospital when she was injured, although when Jackson checked a few weeks later she was told it didn’t have her insurance information. She gave it to the hospital again and assumed a claim would be filed.
“I thought everything was OK,” she said.
Instead, she got a bill for just over $7,000, although the hospital eventually slashed that to $2,153 after classifying her as “indigent.”
Jackson said the amount Research was seeking was still a financial hardship, and the hospital still wouldn’t file a claim with her health insurer. She earns $30,000 a year as a full-time administrative assistant at the Niles Home for Children and has a second part-time job.
Jackson appealed to Blue Cross Blue Shield. The insurer has stated its contracts with hospitals, including Research, require that insurance be filed for auto accidents.
But the insurer was unable to help. It found no evidence that Research had filed a claim, and the deadline had passed for doing so.
Facing the Research lawsuit, Jackson pleaded her case in a letter this February to the Jackson County Circuit Court judge overseeing the case. She told the judge the dispute had taken its toll; in recent months her family has suffered two tragic deaths, including her grandson.
“Sir, I feel as though all of this is very unnecessary,” she wrote. “I pay medical insurance, car insurance and every other type of insurance to make sure I am covered against injury/accident and any unexpected things life brings.”
Today, she feels slightly more optimistic. She recently called a lawyer who remembered a story in The Kansas City Star about hospitals’ refusing to accept health insurance. He referred her to an attorney mentioned in the article.
Her mood improved a little more when she made some changes in her health insurance. Her Blue Cross Blue Shield plan put Research on a short list of hospitals she had to use. Despite a tight budget, she chose to pay an extra $60 a month for a plan that gives her more choices.
“It’s been a hell of a road,” she said.