Webster defines extortion as "getting money by violence, threats, or misuse of authority; sometimes applied to the exaction of too high a price."
It defines arrogance as "unwarranted pride and self-importance; overbearing; haughtiness."
The Mayo Clinic exhibited both in a case brought to the USD Senior Legal Helpline by an 82-year-old cancer patient. She is fully insured under Medicare Part A and Part B and has a Mutual of Omaha Medicare supplemental policy.
Last spring she was referred by her family physician to an urologist who in turn referred her to Mayo, where at St. Mary's Hospital she underwent a complete hysterectomy and the removal of her bladder and a kidney. After an early discharge, she returned home by auto, some 700 miles from Rochester, MN.
She entered her community hospital for a post-surgical checkup. A clinician, concerned that her bowel may have been cut and that she was hemorrhaging, contacted Mayo and was told the patient needed to be immediately returned to Mayo.
Mayo sent its fixed-wing air ambulance to pick up the caller. To her amazement, she encountered what can only be characterized as a form of medical extortion: as a condition to boarding the ambulance, she was required to pay a $2,405 "deposit." Since she was without such funds, her 85-year-old sister wrote Mayo a check for that amount.
The Mayo examination revealed no unusual complications and she was discharged, again returning home by auto. She then began receiving billings and harassing phone calls demanding that she pay an additional $7,215, the balance owed for the flight. Mayo charged $9,620 for the flight. Medicare refuses to pay on the grounds it was not a medical emergency.
I contacted Mayo Transport and was told it does not deal with lawyers – that the calls and letters would continue. I wrote the caller's physician at Mayo, asking him to defend his medical judgment in an appeal to Medicare.
Either Mayo is wrong or Medicare is wrong. We will find out.
Pro bono legal information and advice is available to persons over 55 through the USD Senior Legal Helpline at 1-800-747-1895; mmyers @usd.edu.