Atrium garnishes tax refund of patient who already paid his medical bill. He’s still waiting to be compensated.
The hospital system even wrote a letter apologizing and offering to help get his money back, but months later he says they haven’t fulfilled that promise.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A WBTV viewer had his state tax refund garnished by Atrium Health because of a medical bill he already paid. The hospital system even wrote a letter apologizing and offering to help get his money back, but months later he says they haven’t fulfilled that promise.
The way Jim Mayhugh describes it, it was a series of errors by Atrium that ultimately led to them garnishing his tax refund.
A South Carolina law allows pseudo-government entities like Atrium and other hospital authorities garnish state income taxes for unpaid medical bills.
Mayhugh’s journey with Atrium started with a spell of dizziness two years ago.
“My daughter came and said she was going to take me to the doctor,” Mayhugh said. “And the doctor said take him to the emergency room. It sounds like he may be having a stroke.”
Mayhugh spent the night at the Atrium Pineville ER but said he was discharged the next morning when the medical staff couldn’t find anything wrong.
Mayhugh is insured with both Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Medicare but said he never received a bill from Atrium until recently.
“I got a bill from them for roughly $8,000 saying they were going to send me to collection,” Mayhugh said.
“I called Atrium, I spoke to them, they said insurance hadn’t paid it. So I called my insurance companies and spoke to both of them about why I wasn’t paid and they said Atrium didn’t send them the paperwork.”
Mayhugh eventually got the bill paid by his insurance, even though he says Atrium refused to send the paperwork to them. He was shocked when he received another letter from Atrium informing him the saga wasn’t over.
“I got the letter that said you owe us nothing. If your money is garnished, please call this number and a couple of days later I got a letter from the state of South Carolina saying we sent all your money to Atrium Health,” Mayhugh said.
Mayhugh had more than $600 of his state income tax return garnished by Atrium Health for a bill he already paid, and the hospital system admitted he paid.
“It’s not a tremendous amount of money, but I would like to have it back,” Mayhugh said.
Atrium’s letter instructed Mayhugh to call the hospital to fix the problem. But he says he calls twice a week and can’t get anyone on the line.
In North Carolina, the practice of tax garnishment for hospital bills is not allowed. Only taxes, student loans, child support and ambulance fees (in some counties) can be garnished.
But in South Carolina, it is common practice and only requires a letter, not even a lawsuit. It’s part of a program called Set Off, through the South Carolina Department of Revenue.
A report from Modern Healthcare found that $84.6 million dollars was garnished by hospitals in 2017 alone.
Immediately accessing how much tax returns Atrium garnished last year was not possible because that hospital system and others go through different entities to process the garnishment.
WBTV has received paperwork from other South Carolina residents who had their tax refunds garnished by Atrium for bills they got in North Carolina.
WBTV reached out to Atrium Health to ask several questions including why Atrium couldn’t stop the process and when Mayhugh will receive his money back.
After numerous emails and phone calls, Atrium never provided any response to WBTV.
After WBTV, started contacting Atrium, Mayhugh said he received a call from someone claiming to be the VP of Accounts at Atrium asking if he had been refunded yet. He still hasn’t.
“It looks like it’s the biggest bureaucratic mess I’ve ever seen,” Mayhugh said.
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