What to Know
- Never ignore unexpected medical bills -- they can damage your credit score
- If you receive a surprise medical bill, call the provider right away
- File a complaint with the California Department of Public Health. Learn more at the end of this news story
Daniel Duarte comes from a proud military family.
"I enlisted in the Air Force in 1951," he said. "All my five brothers -- we all served, from Pearl Harbor to the Vietnam War."
Public service is one of many Duarte family traditions. This story hinges on their annual December tamale gathering.
"We always do," said Daniel's wife, Rita. "The week before Christmas, everybody gets together."
The Duartes documented their 2017 batch of tamales with photos. As it turns out, that was a good thing.
Two months later, the Duartes got an unexpected bill, claiming Daniel owed $2,272 for a four-day stay at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. The hospital visit covered the same days Daniel was surrounded by family, at home, making tamales.
Rita and Daniel Duarte, and their daughter Lisa, contacted El Camino Hospital to point out the error.
"I called them immediately," Rita said. "I said, 'You sent me a bill that's in my husband's name. You had him in the hospital. He was never there.'"
Daniel told NBC Bay Area he wasn't at the hospital in December -- or any other date. He's never visited, been admitted, or seen a doctor at the Mountain View medical center, more than 20 miles from his San Jose home.
Rita said a staffer told her the hospital investigated, and resolved the issue. But before long, another bill came in the mail.
"I got one letter that I tore up into pieces," Daniel said. "It was after I was told that everything was fixed."
After more calls and emails to the hospital, the Duartes were told, again, the matter was settled. But in July, a third bill arrived, with a warning.
"It said, if you don't pay this bill by a certain date, you're going to be turned over to collections," Rita said.
Daniel and Rita were fed up -- so they contacted NBC Bay Area Responds.
We made one call to El Camino Hospital. A spokesperson said the hospital could not comment on the situation, because of patient privacy laws. But the day after our call, the family received an apology from the hospital, by phone. And the same day we met with them, the Duartes received a letter, with a promise to remove the bill, without a blemish on their credit report.
Daniel, Rita, and Lisa say they are confident their call to NBC Bay Area changed everything.
"I think we would've been turned over to collections" otherwise, Rita said.
What to do if this happens to you
If you receive a medical bill that you didn't expect, do not ignore it. Your debt could be sent to a collections agency, and that could ruin your credit score. If the hospital or clinic won't help resolve the dispute, file a complaint with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). When you file a complaint there, the provider is required by law to respond.
Here's how to file a complaint:
- Gather any documentation you have related to your complaint, such as bills/invoices, letters, and emails.
- Click here to visit the CDPH Health Facility Information Database.
- Enter the name and location of the hospital in the two search boxes. (For example, "Cityville Medical Hospital" and "San Francisco")
- Click the name of the best match that shows up in the search result.
- Click the "File a complaint" button that appears below the hospital name.
- Complete the complaint information form as directed.