Phone questions not a good business practice

To the Editor:

MedWest, the company that has taken over our local hospitals as well as many local medical practices, has quite a few problems. Articles in local news outlets have documented financial problems, conversations with MedWest employees lead one to conclude that there is distressingly low morale, and the company’s billing and collection policies appear to be badly broken.

MedWest has raised prices far beyond either normal inflation or even the higher rates of medical inflation we’ve seen in recent years. In my case, I’ve seen the charges for a treatment I receive every five weeks nearly triple since MedWest took over my doctor’s practice. There’s no good explanation for the increase since most of the cost is based on the medication that’s administered and the drug company has not raised prices at the increased rates that MedWest is billing. The cost of another procedure I undergo every couple of years doubled after MedWest took over.

The interesting thing about the price increases is that MedWest doesn’t get any more money from these increases. I have fairly good insurance, and MedWest is in their PPO so they get a negotiated amount from the insurance company regardless of what they bill. The increases do, however, affect those without insurance or those who don’t have insurance that have negotiated agreements with MedWest. The higher billings may also have an impact on Medicare reimbursement rates the system receives.

In addition to significant price increases, MedWest has changed its billing and collection practices. Billing is noticeably slower and more confusing. Many people I’ve spoken with have noticed padded or additional charges for procedures and appointments that are reoccurring. It’s hard to know if MedWest is now capturing services it didn’t before in billing codes or if there is something else going on. 

It would behoove people to check their bills carefully and contact Medicare or their insurance companies if there are any questionable charges. Even if your insurance provider pays additional charges, the padding of bills raises prices, including co-payments and insurance rates for everyone.

MedWest has taken to using some fairly aggressive collection techniques. I’ve received calls from someone purporting to represent MedWest pushing for collection of charges that haven’t even been billed yet or charges for items that have been paid. I’ve spoken with more than a dozen people who have experienced similar calls. Besides the fact that these calls seem generated by a billing department where one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, there is a rather disturbing technique being used.

Upon receiving one of these calls, an individual is told that the representative is from MedWest and that the call may be monitored. Then the customer is asked to provide personal information to verify who they are, usually an address and a birthday. This is a big problem. Fraud via the Internet and telephone is an increasing problem in our society. One of the best ways to prevent fraud is to never give out personal information over the phone or the Internet unless you initiated the contact.

A caller may represent that they are from MedWest or some other legitimate concern and they may even be who they say they are but ignoring the basic practice of refusing to give out personal information to unsolicited callers, even in the case where one might be fairly certain that the caller is legitimate, is a way to weaken one’s future responses. Those who commit fraud are pretty smart and they generally are aware of which businesses are using techniques like those used by MedWest.

It is not inconceivable that sooner or later someone intent on committing fraud will mimic a legitimate business’ calling techniques and get personal information; and even a birthday can give someone intent on committing fraud an important tidbit. The simplest response when an unsolicited caller asks for personal information, even if they seem legitimate, is to simply decline to provide that information and request they contact you some other way.

MedWest has lots of problems, and from my experience they don’t seem focused on solving them. In this last instance, though, they are simply being a poor corporate citizen.

Mark Jamison


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