13 Investigates: Patients charged for COVID-19 vaccine after Baylor St. Luke's billing 'error'

ByTed Oberg and Sarah Rafique via KTRK logo
Monday, March 15, 2021
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13 Investigates first got results for Houston patients who had to pay when they got their free COVID-19 vaccine weeks ago. Now, we're clearing up any insurance confusion and getting more answers and refunds for patients who shouldn't have been billed at all.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Aaron Parks was excited to get the COVID-19 shot after one of his doctors at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center set it up for him.

Once he arrived for his appointment on Feb. 24, Parks said he was in and out of the facility within 15 minutes. But, by the time he got to the parking garage, he said he already had a billing notification on his phone.

"I had a new invoice on the Baylor College of Medicine app," Parks told 13 Investigates' Ted Oberg. "A lot of times I'll get them and it'll show zero or whatever, so I opened it up and it was instantly $79 for administering the COVID vaccine shot."

Parks said he saw our 13 Investigates report earlier this month, reminding residents that the COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone, so he reached out to us with his bill.

Tarron Hilliard also saw the investigation and reached out about his $91 bill from Baylor St Luke's.

"I was a little puzzled about that because from my knowledge, I was hearing you weren't supposed to pay anything," Hilliard said.

Neither of them was supposed to be charged and after 13 Investigates asked Baylor College of Medicine about it, the hospital said it is working on notifying patients who received statements due to a "billing system error."

INTERACTIVE: See 13 Investigates' full coverage of patients who say they were told to pay when getting the free COVID-19 vaccine On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.

The Texas Department of State Health Services says the COVID-19 vaccine is supposed to be free for everyone. Although providers can charge an administrative fee, the state said the fee cannot be charged to a patient, but should go through the patient's insurance provider or through a federal reimbursement program if the patient is uninsured.

In a statement, Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, told 13 Investigates, "BCM policy is to bill insurance companies the allowed vaccine administration fee, but not to bill patients. A billing system error resulted in some patients being billed for the COVID-19 vaccine. This has been corrected and affected patients are being refunded."

Hilliard, who received a paper bill, said he didn't buy that explanation.

"If you're printing this out and you know that it's a glitch, surely you know. You put the details on there as to what the bill was pertaining to then, you know then not to send it out to the patient so that story ... I'm not buying," he said. "There's probably a couple of people who may have gone ahead and just paid it."

A Baylor College of Medicine spokesperson wouldn't tell us how many people were billed in the error, but said all affected patients have been notified.

"The customer service department called all patients this weekend who were impacted and alerted them they were receiving a refund. They either left a message or spoke directly to the patients," Baylor said in an email on March 15. "It was (ABC13's) call to us that alerted us to the issue with the billing system. That has been corrected and guardrails put in place to prevent it from occurring again."

When Parks got his shot, he said there were dozens of people there with him. He never paid the bill he received and within an hour of 13 Investigates calling Baylor, Parks said he got another statement, this time showing his insurance company was billed and he owes nothing.

Although providers can ask for your insurance and bill your insurance company, the cost cannot be passed onto customers if the only service you receive is a COVID-19 vaccine.

We still want to hear from you if you've been charged. Fill out the form below and let us know when and where.

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