by Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Legislature has passed a bill that limits the time hospitals can wait to submit inmate medical bills to the state.
It comes after a NewsChannel 5 investigation revealed the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, waited as long as six years to bill the state for inmate care.
The newly passed bill would require hospitals to submit bills within six months of treatment.
Under the current law there is no deadline. The legislation still must be signed by Governor Bill Haslam.
In some cases the Regional Medical Center billed taxpayers more than $1 million per inmate for treatment that happened years ago.
"We've actually had to pass legislation to say you must present your bill in six months to get paid, we shouldn't have to do that," said Representative G.A. Hardaway (D) Memphis.
Hardaway had little sympathy for the county run Regional Medical Center and the unusually slow way it billed taxpayers.
"I don't want to say it's incompetence, but it might be. It could be there's some legitimate reason, but I don't see it," Representative Hardaway said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed stacks of bills the Regional Medical Center sent to the Department of Correction last year that dated back to 2009.
The Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Correction said the bills busted the department's budget
"What I can't plan for is when the service is provided in 2009, and I don't get the bill until 2013," Wes Landers said.
Landers also questioned some of the itemized charges on the bills.
We found charges at least five times higher than what Medicare would pay.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is there any other county that submits bills as late and as high as Shelby County?"
Landers responded, "Not to my knowledge."
The Med, as it's called in Memphis, told us in November that regular audits kept turning up prisoners that it treated years ago, but never billed the state.
The powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Randy McNally, sponsored the bill that puts a six month deadline in place.
"Six years old and they can't explain why they're that old. I don't think we should pay them," Senator McNally said in November.
The Med sent a statement this afternoon which said:
"We were aware of the legislation just passed requiring health systems to submit billing for patient care to the Department of Corrections within six months of the care provided, and we worked with the Department of Corrections before the bill was passed to make minor adjustments to the bill. We will do our part to ensure our filings are completed in the timeframe allowable by law. In addition, there are multiple entities that play a role in the billing process which are outside of our control. We will continue to work with these individual parties to streamline the process to ensure timely billing for these patients." - Tish Towns, FACHE, Senior Vice President of External Relations, Regional One Health
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