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Marathon County woman shares story to warn others not to pay bills for COVID-19 shots

A woman from Hatley was billed for her COVID-19 vaccination, which vaccine providers are not...
A woman from Hatley was billed for her COVID-19 vaccination, which vaccine providers are not allowed to do.(WSAW Emily Davies)
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 6:42 PM CDT
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Weston, Wis. (WSAW) - Two women walk into a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. One woman has an uneventful experience, the other gets a bill in the mail.

That is what happened on April 6 when Gwen Kostrzeski and Diane Mohan from Hatley went to the Marshfield Clinic vaccination site in Weston together.

“We registered at the front clinic,” Kostrzeski began. “She (referring to Mohan) actually handed in both of our IDs, Medicare cards, and, of course, they validate them with your insurance and she handed them in because I was sitting in a wheelchair, you know. And we got our passes, went down, validated us, went in, got our shots, very quick, very efficient. Watched a movie for 15-20 minutes and we were out of there.”

They said it was a pleasant, professional experience. They got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, so they did not have to think about getting a second dose. Mohan had no issues. A few weeks later, Kostrzeski got a bill in the mail for $86.30 for a flu vaccine. Kostrzeski did not get a flu vaccine on April 6 as her bill stated. Kostrzeski said she received the bill one business day before it was due.

So, she called the Marshfield Clinic billing department, waited 20 minutes until the call dropped. She called back again, waited another half hour, and left a voicemail. She later received a voicemail from the billing department, but the employee asked her to call the same number she had already spent nearly an hour trying to get through on, so instead, she reached out to 7 Investigates.

7 Investigates reached out to Marshfield Clinic who asked for the patient’s name so they could work to resolve the issue. Once permission was granted, Kostrzeski got another voicemail from the patient experience department about an hour later. Kostrzeski wanted 7 Investigates to listen in as she called the employee back. The former medical IT consultant had a lot of questions.

Patients cannot be billed for the COVID-19 vaccine or any administration costs; it is completely free for the patient. However, administration fees can be billed to a patient’s insurance.

“Why would you have sent a bill that says ‘flu’ on the bill instead of an administration fee,” Kostrzeski asked the woman.

“I don’t know how they code it, honestly,” the woman replied.

The woman told her that her insurance information was not on file. She said she was being told that when they do not have a patient’s insurance information, those patients seem to be getting a bill. She said uninsured individuals have their administration fees covered by a separate fund, but Kostrzeski has insurance and it was read back to her and validated after being entered on-site on April 6.

“I don’t know what the disconnect happened, but it sounds like a mistake was made and I just want to get it rectified so you don’t have this bill,” the woman replied.

The employee said she has not dealt with any other similar complaints to Kostrzeski’s.

Marshfield Clinic did not grant 7 Investigates an interview but provided a statement in response.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free for everyone; however, there are administrative fees and paperwork that go on behind the scenes. We apologize for the inconvenience this patient experienced in receiving this bill. We are working with the patient to have the charge submitted to her insurance, which we anticipate will cover the cost. We do include on each patient bill information addressing vaccine costs and steps patients can take if they receive a bill. We are reviewing our COVID-19 administrative process to help prevent this issue from occurring again.

Reviewing Kostrzeski’s bill, there was no mention of what a patient should do if they are charged for a COVID-19 vaccine, though the billing department’s number was provided and her bill was listed as a flu vaccine rather than a COVID-19 vaccine.

A Department of Health Services spreadsheet tracking COVID-19 vaccination complaints 7 Investigates obtained through an open records request did not show any complaints against Marshfield Clinic through April 13. 7 Investigates has requested an updated spreadsheet.

If you are billed for a COVID-19 vaccine, DHS advised people to reach out to the vaccine provider and to send DHS an email to make a report at dhscovidvaccinepublic@wi.gov. People are asked to make any other complaints against COVID-19 vaccinators to that email address as well for the DHS COVID-19 taskforce to investigate.

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