In April, I made an appointment as a new patient to see a physician’s assistant here in town. My appointment was with Mary Ann Chambers, a PA affiliated with Beaver Dam Community Hospital Medical Clinics in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The hospital has outlying clinics in many areas throughout the state.
I hadn’t been to a doctor in years because my primary care provider had moved out of the area, but mostly because I’d been generally healthy and not ill. But in January, I had a bad bout of Influenza. I was improving steadily, but still feeling fatigued if I did too much. A friend (who is a nurse) recommended that I get checked, specifically for my thyroid function, since I have a family history and the flu can trigger thyroid problems.
I went online, found a physician through our insurance who was in network and also local, as I try to support locally for everything I can. I made an appointment for the following week, which was the soonest regular appointment they had available.
The Beaver Dam Community Hospitals and Clinics website states: “Our mission: Deliver excellence across a continuum of services. Our vision: Be the regional destination for health care by cultivating an engaging work environment in which our care team delivers unprecedented quality, safety and service at a competitive price.”
Since they put it in writing, I suppose I expected that to be true.
When I arrived, Chambers asked me why I was there, as well as a detailed list of potential problems I might be having, in addition to getting a family history. When she asked about diet, I explained that we are whole food, plant-based, meaning that we eat no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no processed foods and no oil. We eat fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains as close to their original form as possible.
At this point, she stopped me and informed me that no diet was “a magic bubble,” and that I was just as likely to have a heart attack at young age like my mother had, even if I was “skinny right now.” She told me that I would most likely be walking out of that office with blood pressure and cholesterol medications, no matter, “how special” I thought I was. She went on to tell me numerous horror stories of “vegans,” she knew who had heart attacks and cancers at young ages. When I tried to explain that vegan is not the same way of eating as plant-based, she refused to let me explain the differences and told me she had, “heard enough about what you eat because it’s not actually important to your health.”
She did feel my thyroid, informing me that “Your thyroid is fine so you were wrong about that,” as if coming in with a specific concern was not only discouraged but reason for shaming. She did not feel any of my lymph nodes, despite knowing I had recently had Influenza. She did not have me undress or check over any part of my body except the thyroid. She did listen to my heart and lungs through both of my thick shirts for a total of 3 breaths in and out.
Then she proceeded to show me her gnarled arthritic fingers, then grabbed her large belly with them and told me that these were signs of aging and I should “wake up to the reality” they would happen to me too. She told me that when menopause hit, I would gain weight and have health problems like everyone else. Again, she told me that I wasn’t “special” just because I didn’t eat meat.
In the end, she didn’t want to draw any blood work, telling me that for now I was the picture of health and didn’t even need to exercise. She told me I needed to get more rest and should consider eating meat. I told her that based on my mother having a heart attack at 53 years old, I had to insist on some basic labs. I hadn’t been seen by a doctor since my last child was born 4 years earlier, and at 44 years old, I felt that a check of my cholesterol was important. She reluctantly agreed after I reminded her of her comment that I was most likely going to walk out of the office on at least blood pressure and cholesterol medications.
A nurse came in and drew some blood and then I left, feeling no more reassured than when I had come in. But very sure that I needed to find a better doctor. Not only did she constantly contradict herself, but she had a lot of obvious animosity about my chosen way of eating, as well as making snide comments about me being thin and healthy. And at 5’3 and 130 pounds, I am not skinny or fat but healthy in both appearance and BMI. I honestly felt discriminated against for my good health, an odd experience to have with a medical professional.
I got a letter (as in, an actual in the mailbox letter) over a week later, stating that I was very slightly anemic, and very, very slightly low on vitamin D. Chambers insisted in the letter that this was due to my diet, and that I should take iron pills and vitamin D and come back to see her in 3 months to re-draw labs. That was it. No conversation, no call, no follow up. Just a letter.
I added more foods with iron to my diet and tried to forget the whole thing, other than asking around to some friends to find a new doctor.
Had Chambers taken the time to speak with me, or look at old labs in the system, she would’ve learned that I have always tested slightly anemic. And any doctor or PA worth their salt knows that literally everyone is low in vitamin D in Wisconsin in April, and that a little spring sunshine would resolve it easily. But the rest of my labs were stellar, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone healthier on paper than I am. I desire a physician who is willing to support that, and work with me and have a real conversation about my health. It was obvious that Ms. Chambers either had too much personal bias about my particular diet, or simply was not capable of learning about something new.
Either way, by the time a month had gone by, I was feeling back to my normal self. The medical visit faded out into a bad memory.
Until last month, on my birthday no less, two months after my appointment, when I received a bill for $1300. Our insurance paid $450, the (very reasonable) maximum they will pay for a regular doctor visit with labs, leaving me with a bill for $850. This was for a regular office visit, with labs drawn right there in the office. No tests, scans or even taking off my clothes. I was in office less than 25 minutes and they felt their “care” of me justified $1300.
I initially thought it was a mistake and called billing. But they assured me that it “sounded pretty standard” and said they’d send me an itemized bill. The itemized bill shows nothing more than a routine visit and that she ordered every blood test she could possibly order, although since I am not overweight or even ill, and since she didn’t feel I even needed a full examination or blood work to begin with, I have no idea why she felt every single lab was necessary.
We had to call numerous times to Beaver Dam Community Clinics and Hospital to get answers and they finally informed us that their billing is based on a “point system.” They have been unwilling to release any explanation or written information about how their point system works, but they told us it was based on how involved a visit was and how much needed to be done and thus each patient would be charged accordingly. Apparently, my visit -where I was not even examined- was categorized as the “highest points,” they can bill a patient. Again, they are unwilling to provide me with the paperwork to try to understand why, although I can’t understand how someone as healthy as I am given such a lackadaisical exam would be considered such a high-risk, high-points patient.
Here are my labs, showing clearly in scientific proof that I am healthy and hardly a high-needs patient.
I try very hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but I have to wonder if Mary Ann Chambers was either simply discriminating against me because of her animosity towards my chosen way of eating, or if she simply over-tests all of her patients as some sort of scam in an already very crooked, for-profit medical system in America. I suppose it’s also possible that she may simply not know what she is doing and thus always tests for everything. I’d like to say that billing helped answer my questions but they have not.
You would think a $1300 bill would flag the billing department of the BDCH as unreasonable, but they have had this case “in review” for over a month and get more tight-lipped by the day. At the time of this writing, they completely and totally stand by their outrageous bill, and their PA Chambers.
I try, as a general rule, not to gossip or spread negative reviews about any of my experiences in life because I prefer to deal with the offending party directly. In this case, I have contacted the Beave Dam Hospital and Clinics billing department over a dozen times, and only have been allowed to talk to various billing employees. Despite repeatedly asking, I have not been given answers about my bill or who else I could contact to receive clarification. I alerted the billing department that I would be making all of this information public and would like to be sure they received the same information that I am sharing with the world. I was finally given the name James McComas, director of quality control, as well as a physical address, as I was informed that they DO NOT HAVE have email addresses for administrators. Umm, how is that possible? They told me that I am free to write him a letter and mail it if I want to.
Despite of all my efforts to remedy this or gain information, it appears that the only way that I can protect friends/potential future customers (or get the attention of the BDCH at this juncture) is to spread the word about this experience with whomever I can. I do not want any of my friends or anyone else in our area to be taken advantage of the way that I was. And no person should be charged $1300 for a well-visit, even if they are feeling slightly fatigued. Can you imagine what they may feel entitled to charge for that visit if someone were truly sick?
Such a bill is preposterous to begin with, but it is downright insulting when it comes from a biased, rude and incompetent medical professional. I am writing this in hopes it finds those that are in search of or need a doctor, so they may seek out more affordable and proficient medical professionals. Professionals who will put patients over profits and will not take advantage of those who come in for help, let leave with nothing and get charged 4 times the average cost of a well-visit.
I am attaching the detailed itemized costs analysis I requested from the hospital, to show exactly what Beaver Dam Community Hospital and Clinics charges as well as the labs this particular PA felt necessary to run.
Hopefully anyone who finds this information will shop around at other clinics before choosing BDCH and being charged the same exorbitant prices. From even my initial investigating of the other providers my family has seen, BDCH Clinics prices are three to four times any other clinic in the area.