THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- July updates: Three for Fourth including miracle cure

For some, the Fourth of July is a chance to have a few beers, enjoy some backyard grilling, and shoot off some fireworks. For others, it's a time for reflection.

The holiday provides a chance to follow up on a couple of recent stories, as well as briefly note a new item of interest.

The June 7 Tough Customer column concerned Dan Brown and his dust-up with the office of dentist Scott Knierim over a $942 bill. Brown contended that Knierim's office had assured him it would submit the bill for insurance coverage but allegedly failed to do so.

Dr. Knierim's office, citing patient confidentiality, would not comment on Brown's situation, but Knierim told me that he would make his office manager, Ronna Bass, available to sit down with Brown and go over his billing records to see whether the unpaid bill was the result of staff error or Brown's inattention.

Patient Brown says he promptly called the office to set up the appointment, but was told that Bass was on vacation and would call him by the end of the month. As of Monday, July 2, Brown had not heard from Bass or Dr. Knierim, so he called again, and was told the office manager would return his call as soon as she arrived at the office.

As my newspaper deadline approached, no one got back to Brown. Brown worried he was getting the same runaround that led to this dispute in the first place, so I called Dr. Knierim's office.

Bass said it had been a crazy time at the office because Dr. Knierim had been away, but now that he's back, they would "definitely" get together with Brown by the end of the week. And it sounds like that's about to happen, as Brown and Bass report they're planning to meet on July 3 (after the Hook goes to press).

As for Eddie Mikell and Judy Adams, the couple injured in an automobile accident in France ["Mon Dieu! Accident causes French disconnection," June 28] who were worried that health plan administrator Southern Health would deny coverage of some $16,600 of expenses related to the accident, their fears were confirmed. Southern Health did indeed deny coverage. Mikell reports that they have started the appeals process on the claim. I will be closely following their story as it continues to unfold.

Finally, a week or so ago my attention was called to an advertisement in the "Reflections" supplement of the Daily Progress on June 21.

The ad, for optometrist David L. Armstrong, is a faux news story headlined, "Charlottesville eye doctor helps legally blind to see again." The by-line is attributed to "Elena Lombardi, Freelance Writer."

Dr. Armstrong is a Roanoke-based optometrist with an office in Charlottesville. At least two of his satisfied patients mentioned in the article appear to actually exist-– or at least have telephone listings. Although I did not seek to verify the accuracy of their actual stories, there is no reason to believe that they are in any way inaccurate.

Dr. Armstrong, of course, does not actually restore eyesight to the blind, but rather is a "low vision" specialist. Low vision is impaired vision that cannot be corrected through conventional means such as glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. Dr. Armstrong's ad touts special lenses and glasses that the ad claims can significantly improve low vision. Such treatment is one among many noted for low vision on the website of the National Institutes of Health.

The problem with the advertisement is that the Daily Progress fails to make it clear that the faux news story is, in fact, an advertisement, particularly in light of the headline, technically accurate, but obviously worded to convey the impression of a miracle cure.

Gail Whiting, the Daily Progress' regional advertising director, said the paper does have a policy that requires such ads to be marked on top, "Paid Advertisement," but that in this case, it "simply got missed."

Whiting demurred when asked whether the paper would publish a correction, saying that was a decision "that would be handled internally."

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