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Health care administrators remedy problem for veteran faced with $30,000 medical bill

The Department of Veterans Affairs Building. (JeffOnWire/Flickr)

A Vietnam War veteran threatened with a nearly $30,000 medical bill because of a blunder with a Department of Veterans Affairs program was assured this week that he would not be charged.

Bob Hart, 73, uses the VA Choice program to receive medical care at a private hospital close to his home near Jacksonville, Ill. He was informed several weeks ago that he owed the hospital for treatment he thought the VA covered.

TriWest Healthcare Alliance, the third-party administrator that the VA uses to pay private providers through the Choice program in 28 states, said Tuesday that they looked into the situation and remedied the problem.

“The veteran will not be responsible for any of these charges, as his services are all authorized and covered under the Choice program,” TriWest wrote Tuesday in an email.

Hart receives biweekly injections of anti-inflammatory medication at Passavant Area Hospital for a condition linked to exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange. After Hart was told about his growing medical bills, he wondered whether he could continue to receive treatment.

“I don’t know where I stand on this,” he said at the time. “If I don’t get the shots, I’m in trouble. But I can’t lose everything I’ve got.”

Following a Stars and Stripes story on July 3 about Hart’s situation, TriWest CEO David McIntyre called him and promised the error would be fixed, Hart said. Hart, McIntyre and the billing department at Passvant Area Hospital held a conference call on Monday in which the hospital vowed they wouldn’t bill Hart again.

TriWest said there were errors with Hart’s authorization to use the Choice program, which led to delays with his local hospital submitting claims for reimbursement. TriWest “re-educated” Hart’s private providers about how to use the program, the company said.

“All of the claims in question were submitted and are now being processed,” TriWest said.

TriWest described Hart’s situation as “unique,” but other veterans using the Choice program have faced similar problems since the program was created in 2014. When medical facilities experience delays getting reimbursed for treating VA patients, veterans’ medical bills can be sent to debt collectors and their credit reports damaged.

The VA established a toll-free number, 877-881-7618, for veterans to call when facing billing issues through the Choice program. According to a letter sent last year by 40 lawmakers to the VA about the issue, the agency received more than 57,000 calls between the program’s launch in late 2014 and May 2017 from veterans facing adverse credit reports.

TriWest encouraged veterans to contact them directly so they could investigate and resolve issues. Veterans using the Choice program can reach TriWest at 866-606-8198.


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