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Call Collett: Pediatrician after-hours fee leaves mom stunned

Amina Zeitoun says her six-year-old son was having trouble catching his breath during coughing episodes in March.  

It was too late to be seen at the pediatrician's office, Amina told News 2 at an interview in her home.  She said the receptionist recommended the after-hours clinic in North Charleston, which left Amina thinking the clinic was an extension of Sweetgrass Pediatrics.

“They took our copayment for the sick visit,” she explained.  The process seemed similar to the appointments with Sweetgrass Pediatrics.   

“They gave him a nebulizer treatment and sent us home with a prescription,” she explained.

A month later, the bill arrived.  The Explanation of Benefits shows a charge for seeing the doctor; a charge for the breathing treatment; and a charge for miscellaneous services.  

Amina owed more than $400.  At first she thought it was a mistake.  When she received a second bill, she called the billing office at MUSC.

“They told me it was an out-patient hospital facility,” Amina explained.

She was stunned.  She thought the clinic was an extension of her pediatrician's office for after-hours care since the facility only asked for a primary care copay.

That's not the case, according to the founder of Sweetgrass Pediatrics, Dr. Colleen Boylston.

“We have no business or financial affiliation with MUSC,” Dr. Boylston explained.

Dr. Boylston says her practice recommends the MUSC clinics because the doctors have special training.

“A pediatric-trained physician specializes in kids under 21 and their unique needs,” she explained.

On the MUSC website, the clinics are touted as an alternative to the ER.  Amina said she would have been tipped off the facility was charging her at hospital rates if they had charged her the fees for a hospital visit that her insurance requires before being seen by a doctor.  Instead, she was only charged the basic copay.

MUSC wouldn't grant News 2 an on-camera interview for this story, but sent a statement reading in part:

"MUSC Children's Health After Hours clinics are part of the MUSC Children's Hospital, and as such are the only clinics of their kind in the area that are always connected to a full complement of hospital-based, pediatric specialty services."

Amina applauds the doctors who treated her son, but is frustrated with how both the pediatrician's office and the clinic explained the service.

“I think it was failure for both,” she said.

“MUSC Children’s Health After Hours care does not “contract” for service with any pediatric office,” according to the statement from Heather M. Woolwine, Public Affairs & Media Relations Director for MUSC.  With many of the local pediatrician offices recommending the clinics, Amina wants other parents to be warned about the higher costs.  

The best advice from insurance experts is for parents to check with the healthcare provider billing office and with the insurance carrier before going to a new medical facility.  In this case, neither office would have been open.

“Coverage of these kinds of services can vary greatly depending on a family’s insurance carrier, so it is important to understand exactly what a plan will cover for outpatient service, after hours or “urgent care” services, and emergency room services,” according to Woolwine’s statement.

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