Erika Brown took a trip recently to Ethiopia and Tanzania. Before going, she visited a local medical center to get a prescription for travel medicine.
"I needed to get a prescription for anti-malaria pills," Brown said. She was prescribed Atovaquone-Proguanil and was directed to take the pill four times daily.
She paid a total of $327 out of pocket for the medicine after insurance. While on the trip, she noticed she was taking more medicine than her family members.
"We are all taking anti-malaria pills. But I notice I am the only one popping pills," Brown said. She says her mother, a registered nurse, noticed something different about her prescribed dosage.
"I showed my mom the prescription and she said this is wrong. This is what you prescribe to someone who has malaria, not someone who is trying to prevent it," Brown said.
Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases, told us Brown was prescribed what is known as a therapeutic dose.
Brown says she did not notice any negative side effects, but Dr. Marty says taking a therapeutic dose could have serious consequences.
"Some people would get all kinds of different symptoms nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and it really varies with the particular individual," Marty said.
Brown says when she returned from her trip she called her insurance provider, Cigna. She says she was told they would "re-educate" the doctor but couldn't issue a refund.
"I paid hundreds and hundreds of dollars for pills that I didn't need. A doctor makes a costly mistake and I have to pay for it? I didn't think that was right," Brown said. So she called NBC 6 Responds.
We reached out to both Cigna and Illumina Medical Centers, where the prescribing physician works.
A Cigna representative sent us the following statement about Brown's issue: "Federal privacy laws prohibit me from sharing information about a specific individual. What I can say is that we understand the frustration with being charged for treatment that may not be necessary even though a doctor prescribed it. We support physicians and pharmacists in efforts to prevent medication errors, and our quality team is looking into this customer's concern further. Her benefits plan processed the claim correctly based on the medical plan she has. In circumstances like these, we also advise customers to contact the prescribing physician's office and the pharmacy that filled the prescription to discuss both the situation and a resolution. This customer has advised us that her concern has been resolved."
A representative with Illumina Medical Centers sent us the following statement: "We always strive to ensure patient satisfaction and provide the best patient experience possible. We will be reviewing everything and will take necessary actions to ensure complete patient satisfaction. Unfortunately, due to HIPPA regulations, we are not allowed to discuss patient matters without a duly authorized release. That being said, please know that we have already reached out to the patient and will be following up with her directly to address any of her concerns."
Less than a week after we reached out to the companies, Brown was refunded the money she paid for the medication.
"I reached out to NBC 6 Responds for help in getting my money back, and that's what happened, I got my money back," Brown said.
But for Brown, it's about more than money.
"Here I am concerned over my money, and it was my health that is more important and priceless and that was in jeopardy," Brown said.
Dr. Marty suggests visiting a doctor who practices travel medicine if you need travel vaccines or medicine prior to a trip. You can also use reputable websites from organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.