Emergency Care 'Insult To Injury': Medical Bills That Make You Say What?!

I knew there were scads of financial horror stories out there that would make my $446 bill for an ear rinse look like chump change. But when I wrote about it last week — Lesson Of The $446 Ear Rinse: Medical Bills That Make You Say 'What?!' — little did I know that The Tampa Bay Times had just published a fabulous series documenting some truly astronomical-beyond-all-reason trauma center charges. Check out the full series, "Insult to Injury," here. From its introduction:

If you’re in an accident and wind up at a trauma hospital, you probably expect a big bill. But here’s a surprise: The meter is running before you see your first doctor. You could be charged as much as $33,000 just for coming through the door.

Yikes. On a smaller scale, many readers' responses to the ear-rinse pricetag sounded a similar ER theme. One — whose cut knuckle didn't need stitches and so was treated with Neosporin and a Bandaid — was charged $600. "When I inquired about the $600 Bandaid, I was told that the visit was coded 3 and that was the price of a code 3 visit. Apparently code 1 is just for entering the ER, and costs $400. I suggested they post the codes and prices by the ER door so people know what they're getting into when they pass that door!"

Check out the comments after the post for a cornucopia of wild prices, but perhaps the most striking response came in the form of this scanned bill:


Yes, it would seem, $1126 for a two-inch elastic bandage. The back-story from the reader:

Last year I was hit by an SUV while riding my scooter to work. I dislocated and broke my right shoulder, and broke my left thumb. Could have been worse, I was lucky that's all that happened. The driver that hit me only had $10,000 of insurance coverage, which their provider eagerly offered to send me right away - however, $10,000 didn't even cover the initial emergency room visit, let alone the ambulance ride, the surgery required to put my shoulder back together and the over ten months of physical therapy required to get me back to almost normal.

Luckily, I also had medical insurance. It is a full time job to make sure every bill gets paid correctly by my insurer. I was having a particularly difficult time with one bill, so I asked for a detailed copy to be sent to me. Normally, I wouldn't see that, since it gets sent to my insurance company, and I am just sent a bill for my co-pay and no details. I was charged $1126.00 for a 2" elastic bandage (not the application of the bandage, this was a material cost). I called the hospital, who sent me to their billing department. They couldn't answer the question, they could send me a form that would allow them to pull and review my record (by snail mail). I have called three times, each time requesting the form, and still haven't received it.

Please stay tuned for more on this theme. Coming up: Why don't health insurance bills make it clearer exactly what each charge is for?

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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