Do you have a bill that you’ll never stop thinking about? Tell us about it.
THE PERSON: Alethea McGavran
AGE AT THE TIME: 23
PROFESSION: Then studying law; now a deaconess of the United Methodist Church
THE BILL: ~ $4,000
THE RUB: Alethea received a hospital bill for her baby’s blood work. Only her baby had not yet been born. The charges followed her for two years.
I was 23 and studying law in Washington when I received a bill that made my eyes nearly plop out of my head. It was April 1995, and my second child was only a month old, which is why it was strange that the bill I was staring at, dated January of the same year, had her name on it.
The piece of paper detailed blood work, doctor’s visits, and all sorts of labs totalling around $4,000 with corresponding dates billed to my daughter before she was born. I assumed it was just a mistake. I even thought it was kind of funny—until it wasn’t.
The first thing I did was call my insurance provider, GroupHealth, thinking I could easily explain the mistake. I had always promptly handled bureaucracy and paperwork, and I never had any problem with it. I'd always felt that you could eventually work things out. But GroupHealth did not care. Back then they were starting to develop a really bad reputation, so I imagined this was par for the course.
I was young, very stubborn, and already working to put myself through school and raise two kids. So I refused to pay the bill, but I kept calling. After months of calls, nobody did anything and eventually they just sent it to collections. Now I was the one getting calls, this time from collection agents. I would explain it to each of them, walking them through the logic: Here's her birth date, and here's the date of these labs. This is impossible.
Every time they'd say, “Well, I'll have my supervisors call you,” and I then I’d get a call from another collection agent. I’d tell each one the story over again, and they'd say, “Well, you know, I'll have to have my supervisor call you.”
Here I was with these year-plus-old medical bills that I was unwilling to pay, so the collections agents were treating me like some kind of lowlife who doesn't pay her bills.
I had no idea if it was actually getting passed up the chain. I became so disillusioned because it was like screaming into the ether. Over time, I even started getting ulcers from all the stress.
Eventually, I spoke to someone who identified themselves as a manager and listened to my story very patiently. He gave me the contact information for the person from GroupHealth that had initially sent the files. I called him immediately and finally got an apology.
After that, it was removed from my credit report. The apology was over the phone and I never got any more paperwork from them at all. They never clarified how it happened or gave any details whatsoever. My daughter was two years old at that point, and I was just happy to have it done. I didn't want to kick that hornet's nest anymore.
The entire experience soured my opinion of the system. After dealing with a collection agency for two years, I became nervous and avoidant whenever I had to talk on the phone to large corporations or any faceless aggressors.
Now, I keep a paper trail of everything. I get people's names so that if it does happen to me again, I'll be able to defend myself. I’ve even used the experience to counsel other people on how to sort of protect themselves from malfeasance in my work as a deaconess.
[Kaiser Permanente, which acquired Group Health in 2015, declined to comment.]
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.