8-year-old girl with fever denied checkup over unpaid bill

CINCINNATI — An Ohio mother said she took her daughter to a walk-in clinic, but was denied treatment, simply because a past bill had not been paid.

Jessica Vance of Deer Park, Ohio wanted to avoid a $1,000-plus emergency room bill when her 8-year old daughter developed a cough and fever, so she took her to a walk-in clinic, The Little Clinic, inside a grocery store.

When she spoke to the woman at the desk, she received some stunning news. The employee said Vance had a $690 unpaid balance from an insurance payment that had not yet processed, so the employee said Vance’s daughter could not see the nurse, and suggested they go to an emergency room if they needed immediate help.

“I said, ‘What do you meant you won’t see her?’ Vance said. “They told me I have a balance due. I asked them, ‘Can’t you call insurance?’ They said, ‘No, they could not.'”

Reluctantly, she put the past due amount on her credit card, rather than drive across town to an emergency room, and a much larger bill.

“I ended up having to pay $690 that day for her to be seen,” Vance said.

Can a health clinic refuse to examine a sick little girl simply because her mom owes money from a past bill? Contrary to what many families believe, the answer is, yes.

Since 1986, the federal “Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act” requires doctors to treat patients with an emergency condition before discussing payment, even if they have no way of paying. This is one reason city emergency rooms are so crowded — but a doctor can refuse treatment if the situation does not appear to be life-threatening, and that happens often, according to an NPR report.

Vance, though, said the bigger issue is that once her insurance finally paid out a few weeks later, the clinic still hadn’t refunded her $690, more than two months after ending up with a double payment.

When she called, she said, “They said, ‘It’s being processed,’ or, ‘This person’s not in the office.'”

She said she understands doctors may want to be paid first, but said she wants her payment back.

“Now, they’ve got payments from my insurance and payments from me, so they’ve got double payments,” she said.

WCPO contacted Kroger, which now owns the Little Clinic chain that is set up in dozens of Kroger supermarkets. While company officials cannot discuss patients due to HIPPA rules, a spokeswoman apologized for the delay. She said they would rush to resolve this billing issue, even though the clinic and the supermarket did nothing wrong, according to the law.

Vance was happy to hear that.

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