WINTERS (CBS13) — Battling a medical bill was the last thing the Rippee family wanted to deal with after their daughter Taylor was in a car accident.
Taylor wrapped her car around a tree in the Capay Valley. The impact snapped the 17-year-old’s leg in two.
“I remember seeing the turn; I hit the brakes really hard,” she said. “I moved it a little. It felt like two pieces of chalk. And I knew it was broken.”
The ambulance raced her to the closest trauma center, although it was out of her health plan’s network.
It’s the call any mother never wants to receive. Taylor’s mother Michelle says as doctors worked to stabilize Taylor, both the hospital and their insurer assured the family not to worry about the bills.
“We work with them, they work with us. When it’s a trauma like this, and your child’s going through this, you shouldn’t have to worry about her health,” Michelle recalls
Then a $31,000 bill for what the insurer wouldn’t cover arrives from the hospital. It’s a bill that could destroy the Rippee’s finances.
“We have medical coverage, I pay for medical coverage for a reason so that my family’s taken care of,” Michelle said.
Betsy Imholz with the Consumers Union says emergency rooms are a hotbed for surprise bills.
“These bills can be huge and have a devastating impact on a family,” she said. “It’s both infuriating, and I’m afraid, not surprising.”
She says in an emergency, the law allows you to go to the closest hospital—even if it’s out of network—and you don’t have to pay out of network costs. Imholz says sometimes it’s because emergency room doctors are freelancers, who are not in network. So even if you go to an in-network hospital, you may get an out of network bill.
In cases like the one Taylor and her mom Michelle described, where two medical companies can’t agree on a bill, it’s the patient that gets stiffed with the balance.
Imholz says this is inexcusable.
“They’re big boys. They can deal with each other,” she said.
We reached out to the hospital, which said it doesn’t bill patients for charges, their out of network health plans don’t pay.
“In this case, we did not initially follow this policy, and we regret that. We have since withdrawn the bill and apologized.”
After three surgeries and six months of recovery Taylor can walk again.
Surviving a crash and the stress of a large emergency bill now lifted, the Rippees reflect on their miracle.
“How did I live, how blessed I am,” said Taylor.
If you get stuck between companies, you should let the state know. Health regulation in the state is confusing; some health plans are overseen by the Department of Insurance while others by Department of Managed Health Care. You can call either to find out who manages your medical plan.