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N.C. patients sue UnitedHealth Group, taking on major insurance company

Charlotte area patients are suing their insurance after getting a shocking bill in the mail.
NC patients take on major insurance company, sue UnitedHealth Group
NC patients take on major insurance company, sue UnitedHealth Group(WBTV)
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 8:47 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-area patients are suing their insurance after getting a shocking bill in the mail.

Back in January, WBTV Investigates told you about a woman who went to an in-network hospital with her insurance UnitedHealthcare.

She left and later got an anesthesia bill from Providence Anesthesiology Associates for over $15,000.

“I had surgery five times in 2020 and thought I was covered for anesthesia but received a bill several months later,” said Jenna Wolbert.

It turns out, she’s not the only one to get a surprise bill.

WBTV spoke to the attorney who represents the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Their attorney says all his clients have UnitedHealthcare and tried to follow the rules.

To keep costs down, they went to an in-network facility and received care from an anesthesiologist. In a perfect world that would be covered as in-network too.

But according to a lawyer, it’s not.

Attorney Mitch Armbruster says the patients received a bill from Providence Anesthesiology after UnitedHealthcare terminated Providence from their network in 2020.

The suit alleges that the insurance company unexpectedly told Providence they would have to take less money—or get dropped from their network.

Armbruster says United did this as a negotiating strategy, but it’s leaving patients with big bills.

“The worse case is a mother is giving birth and she wants to ask doctors is this going to be covered? That’s not what a mother giving birth should be worrying about but that has happened because of this situation and that’s terrible, so Providence has done their best to try to let everyone know in advance that this could happen. They’re just doing this on their own to try to let people know. I think United has a moral obligation to also be letting folks know what they’ve done here,” Armbruster said.

Armbruster says bills over the past year total in excess of 5 million dollars.

He claims United is violating the law by allowing this to happen.

WBTV reached out to UnitedHealthcare.

In a statement they said:

“The fact that Providence has joined a lawsuit focused on the surprise bills that Providence itself has been sending to patients is just the latest example of the extreme lengths to which it will go to protect its egregious billing practices. Providence’s out-of-network charges are 15 times higher than Medicare pays on average, and when insurers don’t pay those exorbitant charges and instead offer market-competitive reimbursement, Providence surprise bills patients. Fortunately, the No Surprises Act will make it illegal for Providence to continue this practice starting in 2022. In the meantime, we will vigorously defend ourselves against the claims in this lawsuit and will continue doing everything we can to protect our members from Providence’s surprise bills.”

Armbruster says UnitedHealth has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

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