PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - You buy moldy produce from a grocery store, you will probably get your money back. You have a bad meal or service at a restaurant and the manager may waive your bill. But what happens when you aren't happy with a hospital?
Last July Amy Machado's young daughter Katrina didn't feel well. Because Katrina has asthma, Amy and her husband didn't want to wait until morning when her pediatrician's office opened to find out what was wrong. But she says that's exactly what ended up happening.
"The doctor in the emergency room sent us off and said there was nothing more he could do and she was fine," she recalled.
After being sent home from Sarasota Memorial Emergency Room and Health Care Center in North Port, something still wasn't sitting right with Amy.
"Because she was still feeling this pressure [in her chest] and everything, we went to her pediatrician and the pediatrician ordered a chest x-ray and she found a spot of pneumonia," Amy said.
With a new diagnosis of pneumonia, just 12 hours after their ER visit, Amy got angry.
"I called the hospital and I told them that their diagnosis was wrong and I told them that I did not feel responsible for their bill," she told us.
The hospital disagreed and sent Amy this note that saying in part:
"[the] care provided was deemed appropriate based on your daughter's symptoms"
When we contacted Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, they told us the same thing.
"The thing that bothers me is.... they could have a child with pneumonia and they don't even know it? That's uncalled for," Amy explained to us.
We took her concerns to patient advocate and President of LifeBridge Solutions, Sheri Samotin who helps people deal with hospital billing issues.
"Medicine is a science yes, but it's an art as well," Sheri explained. "It's possible that you were in one shape today and 12 hours later or 24 hours later even the same person examining you would have a different finding because your situation may progress or you may get better.... So it's really hard to say was it a misdiagnosis or was it an evolving problem."
Simply put, Amy has to pay her $1100 bill.
But what about a non-emergency situation? You need surgery, you and your doctor choose a date, a hospital and then you find yourself without a room when your surgery is over.
Kristine Harness says snow bird season derailed her stay at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers. She says she was in the recovery room for nearly eight-hours because there were no private rooms available after her scheduled surgery.
It was a WINK News investigation into Gulf Coast's crowded Emergency Room that caused Kristine to pick up the phone.
"I just figured Call for Action could at least address it," she explained.
After her experience, Kristine wanted a 20 percent discount off her portion of the bill.
"You can complain and you can protest your bill-- and they may or may not do an adjustment to your bill," said billing advocate Sheri Samotin.
That's exactly what Kristine did and Lee Memorial, which owns Gulf Coast Medical Center, offered her a ten percent discount.
Mary Briggs, System Director for Media Relations for Lee Memorial Health System acknowledged that seasonal overcrowding can be a problem, but they always do their best to make sure everyone is taken care of.
"Sometimes you have to wait for someone to be discharged and the room cleaned before you can be put into it and that's what happened in this situation," she explained.
While ten percent is still not the discount Kristine was hopping for, our patient advocate says there's nothing else the hospital has to do.
"As a courtesy they may elect to write off part or all of your bill but it's hard as a consumer-- you can't expect that," said Sheri.
Mary Briggs with Lee Memorial told us that during the winter months when tourists and snow birds are visiting, their hospitals are at 90 percent capacity. That's why they asked the state if they could build another hospital in Lee County. The state did not approve those plans.
So in the meantime, her advice is to have patience and understand that staff is doing everything they can to get you into a room if you need one.
Because of privacy laws, Sarasota Memorial Health System could not go into great detail about Amy Machado's situation, but they did provide us with the following statement:
"We understand that taking your child to an Emergency Room is stressful - not only is there anxiety over the medical issue at hand, but also concerns over the cost of the care. At Sarasota Memorial, we try hard to address both by delivering high-quality, personalized and efficient care
If there are concerns about quality of care, our medical director and department leaders thoroughly review the complaint. If there is a billing question, we will review that as well. As we explained in the correspondence Mrs. Machado shared with you, the leadership team that reviewed her daughter's visit found the tests, treatments and recommendations for follow-up care appropriate based on her symptoms that night."
If you are unhappy with the service or have a billing dispute, make sure you approach the hospital, putting your concerns and requests in writing.
You can also try contacting a medical billing advocate to help you navigate the process.
After our interview, we heard back from Kristine and she told us that Lee Memorial did grant her the extra ten percent she was looking for, but only if she paid her entire bill at once, instead of in installments. She said she is unable to do so.