A Baby Spent 36 Days in an In-Network NICU. Why Did the Hospital Next Door Send a Bill?

Brenna Kearney was seven months pregnant in December 2019 when she skilled what she thought had been unhealthy flu signs.

Her husband, Casey Trumble, drove her from their Chicago dwelling to her OB-GYN’s workplace at Northwestern Drugs Prentice Ladies’s Hospital downtown. With all of a sudden elevated blood stress and protein in her urine, she was recognized with preeclampsia, a doubtlessly deadly however treatable being pregnant complication. Medical doctors admitted her to the hospital, saying she may anticipate to remain as much as six weeks and have an induced supply.

Then Kearney developed a foul headache and her blood platelet rely plummeted, indicators she was experiencing a uncommon, harmful kind of preeclampsia and requiring a right away supply by cesarean part.

Kearney’s daughter, Joey, born at 31 weeks, was positioned on a ventilator and moved to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Small however wholesome, she slowly started respiration on her personal and consuming usually. She was discharged in late January 2020, after 36 days within the NICU.

Then the invoice got here.

The Affected person: Josephine “Joey” Trumble, now 3, was lined by her mom’s well being plan by means of her employer, an promoting company. For 2019, it was an Aetna plan, and for 2020, it was a plan from Blue Cross and Blue Defend of Illinois. Each insurance policies had been totally insured plans ruled by Illinois legal guidelines.

Medical Service: Neonatology doctor companies offered in January 2020. Joey wanted tube feeding and ventilator care to supply oxygen.

Service Supplier: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Youngsters’s Hospital of Chicago, whose workers physicians handled Joey at Northwestern Drugs Prentice Ladies’s Hospital. Possession-wise, Lurie is impartial of Northwestern Drugs, however it’s bodily related to Prentice Ladies’s by an enclosed walkway. Lurie has a collaboration agreement with Northwestern Drugs to supply neonatology and pediatric doctor companies to Prentice Ladies’s sufferers.

Complete Invoice: Aetna paid for practically all of Joey and her mom’s hospital and doctor fees in December, whereas Blue Cross picked up practically all of Joey’s hospital fees in January. Doctor fees from Lurie in January totaled $14,624.55, of which the household was requested to pay $12,531.58 after funds from Blue Cross.

What Provides: It took Kearney months of calls to Blue Cross and the 2 hospitals to search out out why Lurie billed greater than $14,000 for doctor companies: The physicians treating her daughter at Prentice Ladies’s — an in-network hospital beneath her well being plan — truly labored for a separate, out-of-network hospital.

Illinois legislation bars insurers from charging sufferers out-of-network charges for neonatal care at in-network hospitals.

A photo shows Brenna Kearney posing for a portrait in her home.
When Brenna Kearney was pregnant in 2019, she developed a uncommon kind of preeclampsia and underwent an emergency cesarean part. Her daughter, Joey, spent greater than a month within the NICU, and the household was billed about $12,500 for Joey’s care as a result of, unbeknownst to Kearney and her husband, the medical doctors on the in-network hospital had been truly out of community.(Taylor Glascock for KHN)

Kearney stated nobody had informed her or her husband that Lurie medical doctors had been treating their daughter. She stated the household by no means signed an settlement consenting to obtain care from out-of-network medical doctors.

Although it didn’t occur right here, many sufferers unknowingly signal broad monetary agreements — saying they’ll pay for nearly something their insurance coverage doesn’t cowl — within the piles of paperwork they obtain upon admission to a hospital. In lots of instances, they’re merely requested to signal on a display screen, with out seeing the doc.

Blue Cross agreed to pay Lurie the in-network charge for the medical doctors’ companies, decreasing the invoice to about $12,500 — which Lurie anticipated the household to pay.

In November 2020, Kearney began receiving letters from ICS Assortment Service, a set company.

“Speaking to Blue Cross was unimaginable, and Lurie stated it’s not their drawback and simply wished to place us on a fee plan,” Kearney stated.

Joey’s 36-day keep within the NICU occurred earlier than the federal authorities applied the No Surprises Act barring shock out-of-network billing. A state legislation prohibiting it, although, was in impact.

Since 2011, Illinois law has prohibited insurers from charging out-of-network charges for neonatologists, anesthesiologists, and certain other physicians when sufferers are handled at in-network hospitals.

Kearney stated she repeatedly talked about the legislation to Lurie and Blue Cross representatives, who denied information of the supply.

“It positively seems that beneath the 2011 legislation, Brenna can solely be billed for in-network price sharing,” stated Kathy Mikos, a registered nurse and affected person advocate with the Navocate Group in Woodridge, Illinois, who will not be concerned with Kearney’s case.

In December 2020, an insurance coverage dealer working for Kearney’s employer persuaded Blue Cross to pay the complete out-of-network fees for the Lurie medical doctors, leaving the household owing $289.63 for coinsurance, which they promptly paid.

Having spent practically the primary 12 months of her daughter’s life combating medical payments from her beginning, Kearney thought the ordeal was over.

Then, final month, she bought a name from the gathering company, which once more demanded fee on the full out-of-network charge for Lurie doctor companies offered to her daughter three years in the past — the invoice she believed Blue Cross had paid.

It took 5 hours on the telephone for Kearney to piece collectively what had occurred. Blue Cross had certainly paid the out-of-network fees in December 2020 — however, two days later, had taken again the cash, in the end paying Lurie’s medical doctors solely the in-network charge.

A Lurie consultant stated Kearney and her husband nonetheless owed 1000’s of {dollars}. A Blue Cross consultant advised she arrange a fee plan.

“I used to be at wits’ finish, and I didn’t know find out how to combat this anymore,” Kearney stated.

Lurie, Blue Cross, and Northwestern Drugs didn’t reply to quite a few requests from KHN for remark. Lurie cited affected person privateness, regardless of receiving a launch from Kearney concerning the federal Well being Insurance coverage Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which approved the hospital to debate Joey’s case with KHN.

A photo shows Brenna Kearney and daughter Joey sitting on a couch together. Joey is playing with colorful block toys.
Brenna Kearney performs together with her daughter, Joey, at dwelling in Chicago.(Taylor Glascock for KHN)

The Decision: After KHN contacted Lurie and Blue Cross, a Lurie consultant referred to as Kearney providing to simply accept fee on the in-network charges in spite of everything.

Kearney stated Tracy A. Spicer, supervisor of consolidated companies at Lurie, informed her Lurie has a “long-standing coverage” of accepting in-network charges for Lurie doctor companies offered at Prentice Ladies’s. Spicer subsequently described it as a “long-standing courtesy,” then defined that acceptance of in-network charges was topic to “case-by-case consideration,” Kearney stated.

Spicer stated the household owed about $3,000 for his or her coinsurance share and provided to arrange a fee plan.

A day later — following extra requests by KHN for remark — Spicer referred to as Kearney and stated she would take away all doctor fees for her daughter’s care. Spicer didn’t return KHN’s name looking for remark.

“I’m sure I’m not the one individual nonetheless coping with this” form of predicament, Kearney stated.

Kearney has filed complaints with the Illinois Division of Insurance coverage and the Illinois Lawyer Normal’s Workplace. The lawyer normal’s workplace informed KHN it had by no means enforced the 2011 legislation barring sure out-of-network billing.

Offered with the details of Kearney’s case, state Sen. Ann Gillespie, who sponsored a 2022 state legislation increasing shopper protections in opposition to out-of-network payments, informed KHN she plans to contact Lurie, Blue Cross, and Northwestern Drugs to ask about their billing association and whether or not they’re in compliance with state legislation.

“We’ll see if it was a sample and whether or not they should look again and see if refunds are warranted,” Gillespie stated.

The lawyer normal’s workplace informed KHN it’ll examine Kearney’s criticism, together with whether or not Lurie violated the state Shopper Fraud and Misleading Enterprise Practices Act by telling her it was extending a “courtesy” by charging her solely in-network charges, when that’s what the 2011 legislation required. The insurance coverage division additionally stated it could examine the criticism.

The Takeaway: Even resourceful shoppers who seem to have the legislation on their aspect, like Kearney, might discover themselves in a dropping, time-consuming battle with medical billing bureaucracies and dealing with assortment actions.

Gillespie, the state senator, stated Lurie, Northwestern Drugs, and Blue Cross ought to have identified concerning the state legislation. She stated sufferers who consider they’ve been improperly charged ought to file complaints with their state’s insurance coverage division, which may set off a broader investigation.

The federal No Surprises Act, which took impact final 12 months, prohibits medical suppliers or insurers from billing sufferers for out-of-network doctor fees at an in-network hospital, unless the patient formally consents to an out-of-network physician. To be protected, sufferers ought to ask treating medical doctors whether or not they’re in or out of community, even at an in-network hospital.

Whereas the federal legislation provides sufferers new protections from out-of-network payments, many Individuals nonetheless face issues from earlier than the legislation took impact, stated Loren Adler, affiliate director on the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Well being Coverage. Illinois is one in all relatively few states that had prior legal guidelines to guard shoppers.

Additionally, some out-of-network physicians proceed to invoice sufferers, regardless of the brand new federal protections. So know your rights. Cite the brand new legislation. And don’t write the test.


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