My Horrible Billing Experience with Sutter Health

I am indignant with how badly managed my hospital is.

I have been sick for a few months and I have made numerous hospital visits. I have had CT Scans, PET Scans, a Biopsy, Ultrasound, ER visits. It’s been challenging.

Like an honest man, I have made each and every payment that came to me. In fact, I over paid a couple of bills.

I got overpaid notices and checks back!

I loved my hospital and the care they have provided so far. My primary care is a great doctor, one of the best I have had. I didn’t like my specialist at all, though. (That is the major reason I am moving my case to UCSF.)

Collections: Then I got an email in the same week from a collections agency. The one moment everyone dreads. I go to the portal and see that I have made each and every payment.

  1. Call 1: I call the CPMC number, press the extension for billing. I asked them about the weird notice I have received. They said all the “hospital” bills are cleared and they don’t see anything due there. They sent me to another number for Physician’s bills, because off course! The hospital portal does NOT put the physician bills in the same place where I would trust them to have all my transactions. Annoying.

2. Call 2: Next, I call the Physician billing line, and I am told that all my physician bills are clear. Once again, I looked at the top of my notice from collections and it listed San Francisco Emergency Medical Associates. They tell me that physician billing doesn’t see anything overdue and asked me to call the emergency billing number. The 3rd number in a row.

3. Call 3: I called the emergency billing. By this time, I am feeling really disappointed with the mess this hospital is, but I was hopeful that I will be able to find out about the mystery notice. Too soon. The emergency billing operator tells me that they don’t handle the particular doctor I saw at ER!!!!

Me: “Seriously? Then who does?”

Operator: “We won’t know that (with an irritated voice). We handle some doctors for the ER, but not the one who saw you. I think you can find the doctor on the hospital website and call her number and they can guide you.”

4. Call 4: Anyways, I suck it up, and call the doctor’s number on her webpage. By this time, I have lost all faith that I will be able to find who sent me this bill. I am proven correct when the person picks up the phone at the other end…

“Sir, I won’t know which number to call to make this payment.”

Mind you, this is the number of the doctor who saw me. She handles emergency patients in the ER in the hospital.

Me: “Who can help me?”

Hospital support: “Why don’t you ask the collections number to provide you with information?”

WOW! The lack of support, has now crossed all the boundaries. I squirmed that I have been on phones with various numbers for a long time, and I keep getting redirected. She just shrugged her shoulders, “This is all I can suggest at this moment.”

5. Call 5: Next, I call the collections. At this point, I am surprised to talk to the collections guy and find the most empathy of all. I said I am going to dispute this bill, so they pause any harm to my credit for now. He provides me no information on the bill, or any information to contact “San Francisco Emergency Medical Associates” (when you search for them, it takes me to Sutter Health’s Emergency homepage, which I have already called).

6. Call 6: Tired, and bleary eyed, I call the emergency number listed on the doctor’s page, and tell them about what I found out from collections. The support staff on the phone thinks for a minute and forwards my number to Physician billing. This the third number I called like one hour ago.

I am pretty irritated by this time for 2 reasons:

Honesty tax: I feel that the system is not designed to help someone who is honest in his transactions. To me, that breaks the moral code of a civic society.

“Cog in the machine” excuse: EACH of these operators showed a helplessness. They make it look like this is not their job AND that they are doing their job. The lack of empathy in voices, and an urgency to help feels really out of way for a medical system.

The yelp reviews of CPMC are filled with all the issues people have faced in dealing with the rudeness of their staff. I don’t think anyone who cares there is not aware of all these issues.


After going through all my bills, and papers, I came across a mystery notice (which I was sure I had paid). I got only one notice of this kind. No reminders ever. The San Francisco Emergency Medical Associates are based out of Jacksonville, Florida. They have a website, where you can enter the account number and make payments. The website’s name ( is NOT linked with Sutter Health in any fashion.

I have no fucking idea how this system works. A system where I go to a hospital building:

I go to the Emergency Room. I don’t use any ambulatory services:

See the doctor:

I never understood:

  1. Who sent me the bill?
  2. Why was it not from the hospital (when I didn’t use the ambulatory services)?
  3. Why was it never clarified that I will be billed outside the hospital by a shady 3rd party?
  4. Why is there no FAQ with the CPMC website or with all the people I called to find out what’s going on?


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