I wonder if the George Foremans have this problem.
March 3, 2008 3:19 PM   Subscribe

My husband and his brother have the same first and last names. This has become a big problem with a hospital bill, and I need you guys’ advice on what to do next.

Setting aside what silliness it is to name your children the same thing, here’s the problem. My husband’s brother was in a car wreck and he was admitted to a local hospital where my husband was also once admitted. I am assuming that the brother was unconscious at the time and unable to correct them when they admitted him under my husband’s name and Social Security Number.

Brother never paid that bill, and now we are getting notices that the bills have been turned over to collections. Anybody got any ideas how to sort this mess out? I presume that asking the collection agencies to supply proof of the legitimacy of the bills will be pointless; after all, the bill did accrue and it looks like Husband was the one in the hospital. We can’t send Brother up to correct the problem as he has since died in another car accident, believe it or not.

Here’s all I have been able to come up with: Go to the hospital and get them to look at the chart to show that the person taking up the hospital bed was 30 pounds heavier and 6 inches shorter than Husband. Get them to x-ray Husband compare them to Brother’s x-rays, even? Husband says he’ll just send them the death certificate, but though that will have the same first and last name, the Social Security Number will not match the (incorrect) one on the bills. Oh, their middle names are different. And they both have TWO middle names. Will the madness never end?

So, what to do? We don’t need this haunting our credit reports, and I refuse to pay the bill just to get them to lay off. Please hope me.
posted by thebrokedown to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for your loss. And I apologize if this seems like a throwaway standard answer, but it truly is the best one. Lawyer up.
posted by spec80 at 3:21 PM on March 3, 2008

Ring first, and get hold of someone who listens to your story. Then, go and visit with 2 x birth certificates, death certificate and indeed, the x-rays. After that, if it doesn't work, lawyer.
posted by b33j at 3:22 PM on March 3, 2008

Have you spoken yet to a hospital administrator to try to explain the situation? If not, it's worth a try, at least for the purpose of finding out what kind of proof they would need to correct the billing error.

A good next step would be to write a letter to the hospital explaining the situation and attaching any documentation you can find. Documents that would be helpful include the two birth certificates (showing two different children with the same name and same parents); the death certificate and something showing your husband is still alive (he should also sign the letter); and maybe also (though this is a bit off the wall) photos of your husband's body parts that should have scars/lumps/whatever if he had suffered the same injuries and had the same treatment as your brother. Make clear in the letter that your husband is willing to show up in person, be x-rayed, and do whatever else the hospital requires for him to prove he is a different person from the one who was treated.
posted by brain_drain at 3:29 PM on March 3, 2008

Or what b33j said in many fewer words!
posted by brain_drain at 3:29 PM on March 3, 2008

This isn't only a billing problem, but it's also a medical one. At that hospital, your husband and his brother almost certainly have 1 medical file. Information such as allergies, medical history, etc are now all in error. This could compromise your husband's care if he should need it.

Approach the hospital with two problems. First, they incorrectly released his brother's medical information to your husband. This violates the brother's privacy rights. Second, there is a huge error in your husband's medical record.

If you focus on those two issues, you might get a better result. Ignore the billing people who don't give a toot about privacy or care issues. Go to someone reasonably high up in the patient care area.

My condolences on the loss of your brother-in-law.
posted by 26.2 at 3:39 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would suggest calling the collection agency, explaining the situation, and asking them what they need in order to get this corrected.

Another option is to call the hospital, ask for their billing department, and explain the situation to one of the employees. I work at a billing department at a hospital (although I am not a biller), and where I work, even if an account goes to collections, a patient can speak to a representative here and get stuff like this straightened out. The hospital can then advise the collection agency that more info has been obtained and pull the account.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2008

And agreed with the poster who pointed out that this is more than just a billing issue, this could compromise your husband's future medical care at that hospital, if they are merging your husband's records with his brother's. That is something that is taken very seriously at medical facilities.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:44 PM on March 3, 2008

Another suggestion is to contact a local TV station. They usually investigate stories like these and could get you quick answers.
posted by special-k at 3:49 PM on March 3, 2008

Good points, 26.2.

And to those who suggest lawyering up: fortunately, I have a lawyer as a close friend of the family, and I have a call in to him to see what he says.

Sometimes it sees that most questions on AskMe can be answered by one of the following:
LUA (Lawyer up Already)
Go ahead and eat it, you'll be fine
posted by thebrokedown at 4:10 PM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

Ignore the billing people who don't give a toot about privacy or care issues.

I have to disagree with this. As I said, I am in a billing department at a hospital, and I can say that here, we do, in fact, give a toot. Nobody wants to see a patient get hurt over something like this.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 4:11 PM on March 3, 2008

DrGirlfriend - fair enough.

I said that because many medical facilities have outsourced billing and collection. That separates the billing from the patient care. It stops being about how can we correctly collect from the patient and insurer while providing excellent clinical care. It becomes how do we get this bill paid - end of story. Once it's just another bill outsourced for collection, any meaning to patient care gets trampled.
posted by 26.2 at 4:27 PM on March 3, 2008

i imagine that the hospital ombudsman or patient advocate can also help you out if you can't sort it out with the billing department yourself. i would second the advice above to round up both the brother and husband's birth certificate and the brother's death certificate and any other identification you can find.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:36 PM on March 3, 2008

Go ahead and eat it, you'll be fine.

Sorry, I mean, I think the idea of involving a local TV station is a good one. That's usually my nuclear option when dealing with obvious errors that aren't corrected (eg a faulty transmission that the dealer refuses to replace under warranty). Usually the threat of doing this reroutes the complaint to the public affairs department, which tends to escalate it to someone who can actually do something about it.
posted by unSane at 5:45 PM on March 3, 2008

Contact the hospital's patient advocate; he or she can usually re-route things appropriately.
posted by gramcracker at 7:18 PM on March 3, 2008

What about the accident report from the police agency that worked the scene? They will most likely have the brother's information, including middle initial, address and date of birth and that he was one of the injured and where he was transported. That may help you prove to the hospital which person it was.

All you'll need is the location, date and time of the accident. It may cost you a couple of bucks in copy charges.
posted by lemoncello at 8:14 PM on March 3, 2008

does your husband have an alibi? can he prove he was at work etc at the time of hospitalization? Did brother have any insurance that paid any portion of the bill? If so, the insurer should be able to help.

police report is a good idea, as is contacting the billing dept. if the first person isn't helpful - try another. if you are reasonable and make it clear you know it wasn't their mistake, but you still need their help in fixing it, i bet you can find someone to help.
posted by domino at 6:58 AM on March 4, 2008

Mixing up bills of similarly-named people is extremely common. But the burden is on the collector to establish that this John A Smith is the John A Smith who incurred the debt. That bill is unequivocally not your responsibility and it will go away once the records are properly reviewed.

I presume that asking the collection agencies to supply proof of the legitimacy of the bills will be pointless

Stop assuming that. They're required to go back and verify the debt if you make the request immediately. They're required to stop contacting you after you notify them that you are not the actual debtor. Etc. So you might as well start by making them do their job, instead of bending over backwards to do it for them. If they persist in bugging you after that, then go ahead with scaring up old records, doing certified letters, lawyering up, etc.

Keep a record of any non-compliance with the rights described in that link, because you can walk into small claims court with those records and win $1000 plus expenses, per violation. The threat of carrying through with that, and/or reporting the violations to the FTC and their state licensing agency, makes a collector much more attentive.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:47 AM on March 4, 2008

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