Cayuga Medical Center takes over $12,000 from a patient, may give it back after a couple of weeks

Imagine you’re a patient and you’ve authorized a $120 charge on your credit card, but Cayuga Medical Center charged you $12,338 instead. Now imagine they won’t return your calls.

“This could ruin someone who is struggling to pay the rent,” says the patient whose routine lab co-pay turned into a financial nightmare, and who asked 14850 Magazine not to publish her name. “They are just so nonchalant about it, acting like I’m an annoying customer when I’ve been exceedingly patient.”

Cayuga Medical Center on Ithaca’s west hill. 14850 file photo.

The hundred-fold overcharge happened on March 20th, and the patient immediately called both Cayuga Medical Center and her credit card company as soon as she got the e-mail receipt for the charge. She spent all week trying to contact someone at CMC who could help.

“I was interested to learn that their billing department is outsourced to a company in Texas called Navigant Cymetrix, which is where calls to the local 607 number are diverted,” the patient tells us.

It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon, March 24th, that she finally got a call back from the people she’d been leaving messages for since Monday, March 20th. “They apologized and said the funds will be returned by early April, and there’s nothing they can do about that [delay].”

That’s at least two weeks with a patient unable to use her credit card to buy food, pay her utility bill, or cover travel expenses.

We reached out to Cayuga Medical Center’s public relations office last Friday, and heard back from Jacki Barr, director of patient and customer relations. “I received an e-mail from [the patient] this afternoon and immediately requested Rachelle Fletcher, Director Revenue Cycle to investigate,” she told us. “Please know that we have spoken to [the patient] and are working with her credit card company to get her account adjusted.”

Ms. Barr declined to explain the week-long delay in addressing the problem to begin with, and would not explain why Cayuga Medical Center had not returned the funds immediately. Ms. Barr also would not explain the hospital’s relationship with Navigant Cymetrix, a “healthcare revenue cycle” service provider based in Texas. She did tell us, “We are also looking at our payment procedures to ensure this does not occur again.”

Another patient we spoke to said she had receipts proving she’d made a payment of she owed, but Cayuga Medical Center told her they could not “find” her payment, so she still owed it. She spoke with a woman at CMC’s medical records office who was “not happy that I was forwarded to her by someone in the Texas billing department,” she told us. The woman told her, “They are not supposed to forward calls.”

The beleaguered hospital has also recently been ordered by a judge to rehire two nurses allegedly fired for union organizing activity, and is under investigation following the death of a patient in the waiting room.

“Fortunately I used my credit card,” the overcharged patient told us, “or I would be screwed! And honestly, what makes me so mad is at most times in my life, this would have broken me — between fees and not having access to my money for weeks on end.”

“I’m way over my limit on that card and so, so annoyed,” she tells us.

Ms. Barr has not responded to further inquiries, and John Turner, CMC’s vice president of public relations, has not responded beyond forwarding our initial message to Ms. Barr.

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