MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Healthcare can be expensive, but $15,000 for a ten-minute appointment? That's crazy! What made it even worse was the family couldn't get an itemized bill -- and that's when they got in touch with FOX6's Contact 6.
Rick Hajducki is dearly missed by his family.
"A guy that loved to hunt, loved to fish, loved his family," Irene Hajducki said.
Irene, Rick's sister-in-law took over the hospital paperwork after Rick lost his battle with cancer in September of 2012.
Irene says she never expected to see a bill for more than $15,000 from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
"All of a sudden, this other place starts sending huge bills asking for exorbitant amounts of money. And I thought wait a minute, how can you charge this kind of money for 10 minutes?" Irene Hajducki said.
Irene says Rick had a quick consultation at CTCA shortly before his death, but as far as Irene knew, he never received any actual testing or treatment.
So, Irene asked a simple question that started a year-long fight.
"I wasn't asking for the results of their so-called tests. I was just asking for what tests?" Irene Hajducki said.
Irene wanted to see an itemized bill for the charges, but was told no.
"I'm told because he was protected under HIPAA that they can't give me any information, and I think that's wrong," Irene Hajducki said.
HIPPA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which helps healthcare communities protect peoples' private information.
But Rick was gone, and the CTCA wouldn't even give out information to Rick's wife!
"She had asked them for an itemized billing several times - nothing. She wrote them and asked them - nothing. Not even for them to call or acknowledge anything - nothing. And then all of a sudden the collection agent stepped in," Irene Hajducki said.
Desperate for help, Irene Hajducki wrote to Contact 6.
When Contact 6 told the CTCA what was happening, it sent Contact 6 a nearly immediate response, saying an internal audit revealed a breakdown in communication, that Rick did not authorize the diagnostics that were submitted and the charges were reversed.
It's a communication breakdown healthcare attorneys like Barbara Zabawa see frequently and try to educate healthcare providers on best practices when dealing with families during difficult times.
"HIPAA allows providers to disclose health information as necessary for the purposes of paying bills, for example. So I don't understand why a provider, who wants to get paid for services, wouldn't work with the family and disclose what they need to know in order for them to pay the bill," Zabawa said.
Irene Hajducki says she's glad she continued the fight, even though Rick's fight had ended.
"When you get these medical bills, scrutinize them. Go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Even if it takes to call and question -- anything. Don't just freely say 'well I guess I owe this, I guess I better figure out a way to pay them their money.' No. Don't do it until you've investigated it," Hajducki said.
If you have a loved one in the hospital and are handling their important affairs, ask your healthcare provide for a HIPPA authorization form. Make sure the form is signed, and do your research to know what you can and cannot be told.