THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Root of it: Dental bills put bite on credit

A visit to the dentist might be expected to cause a day or two of mouth and gum discomfort, but not a four-year pain in the neck. Unfortunately, that's what it gave Earlysville resident Dan Brown, a former Marine helicopter pilot and currently a teacher at Monticello High School.

Brown and his family visited the office of dentist Scott Knierim in February and March of 2003 for routine maintenance. All were insured at the time. As they had done previously, the Browns made their co-pays and figured they were done for the year.

Several months later, however, Brown received a $942 bill from Dr. Knierim's office for the visits. Brown called the office and says he was told the insurance claims for the visits had not been filed, but that it would be taken care of, and he could ignore the bill.

Another bill arrived in the fall, however, generating a similar call and a similar promise that the claim would be filed. And he adds that a third contact occurred sometime in early 2005, when, Brown says, he was told the earlier problems were due to office staff who were no longer with the practice and, yet again, that the claim would be filed.

Admittedly (and understandably), Brown's memory of dates and specific occurrences is a bit fuzzy, and since at the time he did not expect a protracted problem, he was not documenting his activities. He does recall, however, that the contact was sporadic. "We wouldn't hear anything and think it was fine," he told me, "then we'd get something."

The matter was still hanging over Brown's head through the summer of 2005. Brown apparently wrote the practice on August 25– he can't specifically recall what caused him to do so– to provide his family's insurance information.

Still, according to Brown, no insurance claim was ever filed.

There the matter sat until Brown received a collections letter from Charlottesville Bureau of Credit (CBC) in late 2005 or early 2006. Brown contacted CBC to explain he didn't owe the money, but was told to take it up with Dr. Knierim. So again he called Dr. Knierim's office, but was told to speak to CBC.

Paging Joseph Heller!

The matter took an even more serious turn later in 2006, when Brown was rejected for a student loan for his daughter– a matter since resolved– because CBC had dinged his credit report.

Then in February of this year, CBC threatened Brown with litigation, which is when he finally got in touch with the Hook.

Dr. Knierim, citing patient confidentiality, said he could not discuss Brown's specific situation with me. He said, however, that patients typically receive "multiple opportunities" to clear up billing problems, including monthly statements, at least one phone call, and a "We're-sending-this-to-collections" warning letter.

He added that when problems like this typically arise, it is due to patients providing incorrect insurance information and subsequently ignoring the plethora of bills and warning letters that land in their mailboxes, until something dire– say a collections letter or a dinged credit report– spurs them to action. By then, the insurance provider doesn't want to deal with the claim any longer.

That said, Dr. Knierim agreed to resolve this matter and said he will first seek to halt CBC's collection efforts. Brown, in the meantime, is to meet with the practice's office manager to go over his account. The next step will depend on what that review shows.

Dr. Kneirim said that in his 35 years of experience, most problems like this could be fixed by "better communication." I couldn't agree more, and Brown and Dr. Knierim finally are heading in that direction. We'll be checking back with them to see how it went. #


Story wreaks of bad staffing and office procedures. I will avoid that place like the plague.

Thanks for running this story. Dr. Knierim did precisely the same thing to me and my family a couple years ago.

Dr. Knierim's explanation made me and my wife laugh, because he's lying through his teeth. His office manager tells you one thing, then does another. And they can always fall back on the paperwork that every patient signs, obliging you to pay any balance regardless of insurance.

I wonder how many more people he's treated this way. Thanks for alerting Charlottesville to how this man runs his practice. People deserve honesty from their health care provider, and you won't get it from Knierim or his employees.

If you two had read the update on the Brown case, you would have noticed that the Brown family admitted they were in the wrong. And both parties settled w/ and smile and a handshake. So therefore don't judge anyone until you know the facts.

Just to clarify, Dan Brown did not "admit" he was "in the wrong" in the sense of saying his dispute with Dr. Knierim was completely his (Brown's) fault. He said he realized that poor communication from both parties was one of the reasons for the dispute, and said, "Yes, I'm willing to take some of the blame."

As for both parties settling with a "smile," Brown said he was satisfied with the resolution. To the extent that Smile connotes he was "happy" with it goes, I think, beyond what Brown communicated to me, though as a columnist I would add that I think "satisfied" is a good outcome for both parties.

FYI, the follow up can be found in the Hook's Sept. 13, 2007 issue for anyone to read and evaluate on their own.

Many thanks,
Alan "Tough Customer" Zimmerman

I can tell you as a customer of Knierim's I have been satisfied with his work and so has my family. There have been billing issues but as a responsible adult I follow up with both the dentist AND the insurance provider. I generally do not discard bills until they are resolved. Again as an adult I know I need to follow up since my name is on the bill. Perhaps Brown should take more ownership when bills are received.
The important thing to me is my mouth not the minor issues caused by paperwork & billing.