Financial assistance for Atrium patient stripped without notice

Family seeks answers after health plan ends

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Diane Whiting had the scare of her life when she says her son Kevin tried taking his own. She says his brother found him in his room.

"There was pills all over the bedroom floor, all over. He said it's like he just took handfuls and threw the rest," Whiting said.

Kevin suffers from numerous mental health problems and after he was hospitalized for his suicide attempt he started receiving mental health treatment from a therapist and a psychiatrist at Northeast Psychiatric, part of the Atrium Health network.

"He needs something, he's gotta have something," Diane Whiting said. "We can't have this happen again. It was too scary."

Kevin doesn’t have a full-time job. His mom showed us his W2 forms where he reported earnings of $1,000 a year. But work often caused triggers.

"His psychiatrist recommended he leave his job," Diane Whiting said.

So Kevin qualified for financial assistance from Atrium called Charity Care. Diane showed WBTV a letter from the hospital indicating he would receive 100 percent coverage. Diane said he did for a couple years until late 2017.

"We were getting bills from Northeast all of a sudden," Diane Whiting said.

In April, Whiting received a letter from Atrium notifying her that Kevin would only qualify for 50 percent coverage from that point on. By that time Kevin had already been billed hundreds of dollars Diane says he couldn’t pay. She would send him to his appointments with $50 just so he could take the appointments.

"I'm trying to help Kevin, I'm trying to keep him seeing a psychiatrist, I've got these bills piling up I'd get three, four collection letters a day in the mail. I'd hide them from him. I wouldn't let him see them because I knew that would just be one more thing for him to worry about," Diane Whiting said.

After months of trying to find out why his charity care changed…and even being promised in this email that it would be restored…they kept receiving bills.

By the time Kevin switched doctors last fall he had more than $1,000 in unpaid bills.

Diane says she was never told why his charity care was taken away.

"I was on the phone everyday talking to someone else. I was yelling, I was crying, not to get pity but I would just get so frustrated and I would have to go over the whole story again about his suicides and going over that is still painful," Whiting said.

We reached out to Atrium to ask why. After emailing several questions to a hospital spokesperson we were told some of their NorthEast practices implemented a new pilot program to automate billing and financial assistance services. they wrote quote

"As intended with pilot programs of this type, it is designed to test a concept, identify any issues and then correct them before the program is implemented more broadly. After reviewing Ms. Whiting's concerns, we found that her son, Kevin Whiting, should have qualified for charity care for his medical services. Our team has corrected this error and has fully cleared these charges from Mr. Whiting's account."

Diane whiting says she was also told her son's accounts will be cleared but in the months of seeking answers she never got a clear picture.

Below is the full statement from Atrium

Atrium Health Statement

Our goal at Atrium Health is to always provide the very best care and experience to all of our patients. The vast majority of times we succeed, and in cases when we don't meet expectations, we do everything possible to remedy the situation. We offer more than $300 million in patient financial assistance as part of the $2.03 billion of free and uncompensated care and other community benefits that Atrium Health provides each year.

A pilot program was implemented in late 2017 at some of our Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast practices to automate and electronically connect our billing and financial assistance services. We believe this program will ultimately streamline the process, making it more convenient and accurate for all our patients. As intended with pilot programs of this type, it is designed to test a concept, identify any issues and then correct them before the program is implemented more broadly. After reviewing Ms. Whiting's concerns, we found that her son, Kevin Whiting, should have qualified for charity care for his medical services. Our team has corrected this error and has fully cleared these charges from Mr. Whiting's account. It is important to note that while the billing issue was being researched, expert care was continually offered to the Whiting family. We appreciate Ms. Whiting advocating for her family and are glad this issue was identified. By detecting this issue, it will allow us to remedy this situation in our pilot program and ensure it doesn't happen to any other patients in the future.

We take our mission to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all very seriously, and are more committed than ever to our patients and the communities we are privileged to serve.

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