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Patients upset after being charged for a free wellness exam

When the word free is used to describe the exam you scheduled it's frustrating to get a bill. Two patients at Wake Forest Baptist Health said that's what happened.

YADKIN COUNTY, N.C. — Sherrie Wiles hadn’t had a physical for about five years. The 73-year-old grandmother hasn’t had any serious health concerns and just didn’t feel the need. Then late last year she received a call from Wake Forest Baptist Health offering a free wellness exam.

“I said if it’s free I’ll go ahead and schedule it,” Wiles said.

A few weeks later Wiles went to see her doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Heath Family Medicine in Lewisville. Wiles said the exam seemed thorough and didn’t take that long. Wiles said she asked the doctor about a prescription to quit smoking, her cholesterol medication, and wanted a DNR in her file.

“He asked if there were any other problems going on and I said my right eye had been bothering me,” Wiles said.

Once the exam was complete Wiles headed out and went home.

Physical exams take place in doctor’s offices all over the country every day. In most cases, the exams are rather routine and are covered at 100-percent by most insurance companies. Steven Hewett had his most recent annual physical last year as well. He too went to a doctor in the Wake Forest Baptist system.

“I knew the exam was free,” Hewett said.

Upon arriving for his exam Hewett said the receptionist had him fill out a form alerting him that no ongoing issues could be discussed during the annual exam or it could involve an additional charge. Hewett said he did not ask any questions only answering everything the doctor asked.

“I was aware of the fact that if I talked about any new or current thing that was happening to me it would be billed as office visit charge,” Hewett said.

Much like Wiles Hewett said the visit was simple and he left less than an hour later.

Both Wiles and Hewett have since reached out to News 2 after Wake Forest Baptist Health charged them for their free wellness exam. Wiles and Hewett said they reached out to their doctor’s office after receiving the bill, but the office would not reverse the charges in both cases.

“I said you’re doing wrong to seniors, they expect to go in for a free exam and then you turn around and bill them,” Wiles said.

The bill Wiles received was close to $400. Hewett’s bills were much less but he was still upset about getting a bill in the first place.

“There has to be hundreds if not thousands of people and if (Wake Forest Baptist Health) is billing people like this they bring in tens of thousands if not millions of fees that should not be charged,” Hewett said.

After receiving an email from both Wake Forest Baptist Health patients, we reached out to the medical facility to better understand what took place and what policies and procedures are in place. A spokesperson was quick to answer our call and emailed us a few days later. Wake Forest Baptist Health would not comment on specific circumstances but did send us this statement:

“Wake Forest Baptist Health takes the health and well-being of our patients very seriously. Our goal is to always demonstrate the highest standards of patient-centered care. When patients have a concern, we work with them to find a resolution.”

After receiving the email, we sent Wake Forest Baptist Health a list of general questions to better understand how it handles these types of exams. We wanted to know what the medical facility does to prevent issues like this when patients are billed for a procedure, they believe is free.

“I was at a loss as to why I was being charged,” Hewett said.

We sent Wake Forest Baptist several emails and called multiple people in the communication department. This went on for more than two months with anyone responding to our calls or answering our questions.

We were finally able to speak with someone from Wake Forest Baptist Health who told us it would have no further comments.

We then reached out to both Cone Health and Novant Health to see what the policies and procedures surrounding these types of free wellness exams.

A spokesperson for Cone Health sent us this statement:

“The practice will verbally notify the patient that any other concerns addressed above the preventative visit will generate an additional charge.”

Cone Health told us it also provides the notice in writing.

A representative with Novant Health sent us this statement:

“Ensuring our patients understand every aspect of their health care experience is a priority for Novant Health. In addition to patient education materials explaining what services may not be covered during an annual wellness visit, our providers use shared decision making to ensure the patient is the one who decides when they’d like to pursue additional services.” 

We reached out to Both Wiles and Hewett after hearing back from all three medical facilities.

“I think the doctor has a responsibility of informing the patient if they are going to start asking questions outside parameters of the exam,” Hewett said.

As to exactly what was said in those exam rooms only the patients and doctors know for certain. In these cases, the doctors both felt the exam fell outside the parameters and the patients believed otherwise or felt they were not properly informed about the policy.

If you find yourself in this situation the best thing to do is to make sure you ask your doctor prior to the exam what can and can’t be discussed. You may also want to check with the billing person prior to leaving the office to ensure you know exactly what will be on the bill.

After News 2 reached out to Wake Forest Baptist Health, we can tell you that the facilities decided to waive all patient charges.  

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