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Health Care & Insurance

Great Medicine, Hair-Trigger Billing

Todd and Andrea Martini found a treatment that beat their daughter Alex's cancer. Then came the mishandling of their medical bills.

In 1998, our ten-month-old daughter, Alex, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a rare cancer. We heard that Duke University's cancer center, in Durham, N.C., had a miracle treatment, called a cord-blood transplant. We went to Durham so that Alex could receive the four-month-long treatment. Duke's doctors were great, and Alex's health improved.


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But Duke made our life hell by prematurely putting into collection bills that our health insurers owed. After we switched insurers, Duke charged $2,700 to our old insurer, which denied the claim. We repeatedly told Duke about our new insurer, but Duke still put $2,700 into collection. It took months of calling before Duke billed our new insurer, which paid the $2,700. Meanwhile, we had a black mark that killed our credit score. When we bought a house in Seattle in 2002 to be close to a cancer-treatment center, the interest rate on our new mortgage was a steep 8%.

In 2003, Alex went back to Duke to receive a second transplant. Again, the billing snafus turned into a nightmare. We told Duke that Alex qualified for a Medicaid program in the state of Washington for expenses that our private insurer wouldn't cover. But when our insurer denied about $20,000 in bills, Duke passed the bills to us. Worse, it sent the bills to the wrong address despite repeated calls to correct the records. Medicaid eventually covered most of the debt, but Duke mistakenly put $3,500 into collection.

This winter, Duke wrote off the $3,500 after a Medicaid official went to bat for us. Overall, insurers paid Duke $480,757 for Alex's treatments. Over eight years, we have paid about $44,000 in insurance premiums and deductibles.

Today, life is good. We got the black marks erased from our credit report. Duke apologized for billing us erroneously. Most important, Alex's cancer is in remission.

--As told to Sean O'Neill