AUSTIN - When Kevin Asberry visited the Emergency Room last year, he didn’t expect to be barraged with bills.
Asberry’s health coverage is covered by the Veterans Health Administration.
The VA takes care of certain medical bills for Asberry’s four years in the U.S. Air Force.
In April 2016, Asberry started having severe stomach pain stemming from pancreatitis. He went to St. David's North Austin Medical Center’s emergency room.
Doctors treated him for pain and discharged him within one night.
Three weeks later, the pain got worse. He went again to North Austin Medical Center. This visit lasted three days.
Asberry showed his VA card, as usual, and assumed everything was paid.
Then, he got a bill in the mail.
“It's been placed on me for payment,” said Asberry.
Asberry was at a loss.
His first bill came May 30, 2016, for $1,356.
Another bill arrived three days later for $630.
By June 27, Asberry’s debt totaled $3,871.20.
“There’s a lot that needs to be addressed,” said Asberry.
He said he called the hospital and the VA after each new bill. Each time, he says he received promises to look into the issue.
The same bills kept coming: June 27, July 26, August 15, and August 16.
Then, on August 19, Asberry got a new bill for $5,457.49. He feared his total debt was now $9,328.69.
“If you’re telling me that I served my country and you’ve covered me, then cover me,” said Asberry.
Finally, the VA sent Asberry a letter saying they’ve paid the bill.
It read, “consider it payment in full” and added “the provider may not bill you… for any services that were authorized and paid by VA.”
The bills didn’t stop.
Asberry received three more letters demanding payment.
One even said, “contact your closest VA.”
Then, in Nov. 2016, North Austin Medical Center issued a letter, saying “balance forgiven.”
“I hoped so,” said Asberry.
Hope faded quickly.
The New Year brought a new round of bills.
This time from a collection agency.
An unpaid debt of $1,418 was placed on Asberry’s credit report.
The charge said it was from Longhorn Emergency Medical Associates, PA. St. David’s website, the owners of North Austin Medical Center, lists Longhorn Emergency Medical Associates as “Emergency Room Physicians.”
Kevin blamed VA and almost gave up until an Emergency Room Billing series aired on KVUE’s sister station in Minnesota.
“I was experiencing the same thing here in Austin,” said Asberry.
When KVUE Defenders picked up the case, we quickly learned the VA did pay. Asberry’s case was unique.
One day after we started asking questions, more than a year after Kevin Asberry started asking questions, we both finally got a response from the hospital.
Our inquiry made staff realize they made a mistake on the first round of billing.
“The bill for the second visit was handled correctly, and it is paid in full. Unfortunately, for the first visit, the VA was not billed as it should have been. As soon as we were made aware of this issue, we submitted the bill to the VA. We apologize to Mr. Asberry, and thank him and KVUE for bringing this to our attention so that we may resolve the situation,” said Natalie Pack, CFO, St. David’s North Austin Medical Center.
It wasn’t resolved completely. The KVUE Defenders learned the hospital debt was cleared, but two physician groups were not paid: Longhorn Emergency Medical Services and Surgical Associates of Austin.
“I hope we address all of my issues,” said Asberry.
KVUE kept pressing the hospital for answers about the billing error. After 22 emails, KVUE confirmed the bill to Longhorn Emergency Medical Services is no longer owed. Surgical Associates of Austin refused to speak with us about the billing, but did reach out directly to Asberry.
Both the VA and St. David’s North Austin Medical Center declined our interview requests.
If you’re a veteran with VA health coverage and have an emergency outside Austin’s VA hours, advance approval is not required for private hospital emergency room visit. However, you must notify the VA within 72 hours.
Press here for a guide on VA coverage of emergency room visits.
If you have a story you want the Defenders to investigate, let us know. The number is 533-2231 or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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