We've all felt like writing this kind of letter, but Darren J. Holcomb of New Carrollton has gone and done it. I for one am singing his praises.
Back in December, Holcomb visited a doctor in Hyattsville to have eight stitches removed from his right hand. The procedure, which any nurse or medical student could have performed just as well or just as fast, took five minutes.
A few days later, Holcomb received the doctor's bill. It was for $65 -- $40 for the suture removal and $25 for an office visit. Holcomb hit the ceiling.
"If my multiplication does not fail me, I am being billed at a rate of $780 an hour," Holcomb wrote the doctor, with a copy to me. "I am sorry, sir, but I believe that to be a totally excessive and unreasonable amount to pay any man, regardless of his education or title."
But all Holcomb's letter really achieved was to allow some steam to escape from his innards. He still owed the $65, and he eventually paid it. Nevertheless, he wonders if there's any recourse for other patients who receive patently outrageous medical bills.
The answer is yes, as long as the doctor practices--or has hospital privileges--in the District.
A little-known D.C. government agency called the Commission on Licensure to Practice the Healing Arts investigates complaints of overcharging by doctors. If the commission finds complaints justified, it turns them over to the D.C. Medical Society for review, according to commission staff director P. Joseph Sarenelli. The Society can then take whatever action it deems proper, up to and including the suspension of the doctor's right to practice.
Why doesn't the Medical Society set reasonable fees for medical procedures in the first place? It used to, according to Dr. Dennis O'Leary of the Society's staff. But a lawsuit raised the question of whether this constituted price-fixing. So, on advice of counsel, the Society has gotten out of the fee-setting business.
Therefore, the place to start if you feel you've been overcharged is the Commission on Licensure. The staff asks that you send complaints by mail. The address is 605 G Street NW., Room 202, Lower Level, Washington, D.C., 20001. And remember to tip your cap to Darren Holcomb as you lick the envelope.