Money Grouse: A spot of bother over a Bupa patient's bill

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AN ELDERLY patient is annoyed at the trouble he has had obtaining an itemised bill from a hospital owned by Bupa, the medical fees insurer.

The patient, a relative of a journalist who writes for the Independent, recently spent more than two weeks at the Bupa hospital in Cardiff. He is insured with Bupa on a unit scheme - an old plan which pays only part of the hospital costs. He knew he would have to pay some of the hospital bill.

The bill was for pounds 5,392.90 and was sent direct to Bupa. The insurer paid pounds 2,004 direct to the hospital. The patient was to pay the balance of pounds 3,388.90. It was a substantial amount for a pensioner and he wanted to know exactly what he was paying for.

He asked the hospital for an itemised bill but was told that it was not policy to provide these for Bupa-insured patients as the insurer had an agreement with Bupa hospitals to pay pounds 16 a day for drugs and dressings regardless of the amount actually charged. Had he been paying the bill in full himself he would have had an itemised bill.

The family rang back to ask for an itemised bill. A spokeswoman then explained there had been a mistake. She said: 'Normally, people on the unit scheme are charged per item for medical consumables. People on the Bupa Care schemes are charged pounds 16 a day.'

He had been charged under the wrong scheme, but the mistake had worked in his favour. If he had paid item by item the bill would have been pounds 5,615.83, and this was the total shown on the itemised account.

However, he still wanted a copy of the itemised bill. The spokeswoman finally agreed, but said he 'would have to accept the increased invoice' for pounds 5,615.83.

The family was flabbergasted. The Bupa hospital could not seriously expect him to pay the increased amount on the invoice just because it was itemised.

We spoke to the Bupa press office, which agreed to look into the matter. Sheila Langley, the press officer, said: 'We are quite happy to provide an itemised bill. The Bupa hospital would never have made any attempt to claim that extra money. It must have been a misunderstanding.'

She also said that the hospital had discovered that the patient had been charged an extra pounds 156 for accommodation charges. The itemised bill would be sent to him with a credit for this amount.

There is a happy ending to this story. But it makes you wonder why Bupa did not spot that the patient had been overcharged when it originally paid its share.

Finally, Miss Langley said a patient 'has every right to request and receive one from the hospital'. The moral is - always ask.

Write to Money Grouse, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. Do not send SAEs or original documents; we cannot guarantee to deal with every letter personally.

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