In the early weeks of the pandemic, the federal government made it free for people to get tested for Covid-19. Unfortunately, countless people in the U.S. have received surprise bills for tests from providers that have found multiple ways to charge extra for these visits. Dollar For can help.
That’s what happened to Bria Craig and her husband. After making three visits to get drive-through tests at urgent care centers near their home in Santa Maria, Calif., they received bills totaling more than $900.
“I just thought that was ridiculous,” she said. “There was no way I was going to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to have a stick put in my nose when I could do it myself for free or for $25.”
Bria knew that the tests were supposed to be fully covered by her insurer, so she called Cottage Health, the health system that ran the urgent care centers, to find out what happened.
At first, the billing department offered to discount the bill by 20%, “which was nothing,” said Bria, since she was not supposed to be charged for the tests in the first place. Then the billers told her, incorrectly, that she was charged more because Bria had scheduled office visits, not a drive-through Covid test — but in fact, Bria and her husband had received drive-through tests.
“I always pay my bills,” said Bria, but she would not pay bills that should never have existed. Because her husband had been laid off during the pandemic, Bria applied for Cottage Health’s program for medical debt forgiveness. Cottage Health, like all nonprofit health systems, is required to have debt forgiveness programs, also called charity care, as a condition of their tax status.
But when Bria applied, Cottage Health told her — incorrectly — that urgent care bills were not eligible for debt relief.
Bria was undeterred by the roadblocks or inaccurate information. She had seen viral TikTok videos about how Dollar For helped get people’s medical debt forgiven through charity care programs, so she filled out Dollar For’s eligibility form.
With its success eliminating medical debt — over $19 million by Fall 2022 — Dollar For was contacted by a reporter from a national newspaper. She wanted to speak with a person who had been denied financial assistance. Bria spoke with the reporter. The reporter asked Cottage Health to comment about Bria’s case. A couple days later, Bria received a call from the billing department.
Bria used the newfound attention from the billing department to advocate for herself. She explained how Cottage Health incorrectly charged her for the tests. She explained how her attempt to get debt relief was denied because an employee mistakenly believed urgent care bills were ineligible.
The next day, Bria got a callback from Cottage Health. Because they had given her incorrect information and failed to share information about what her insurance would pay for at the visits, the health system had a new decision: It would cover 100% of the bills.
Bria thinks that Cottage Health’s decision had a different rationale. A story about them charging $900 for three Covid tests was at risk of appearing in a national newspaper.
The experience of fighting her bills reminded Bria how important it is to request itemized bills from health care providers. “I do think that they tack on charges,” she said, “thinking [you’ll] just pay for it.” She recommended that others do the same thing, “to make sure they’re not throwing on extra charges that you shouldn’t be billed for.”