Happy ending alert: Yesterday, as part of our “Medical Bills That Make You Say ‘What?”‘ series, we posted here the disturbing story of a Florida hospital bill that included an $1126 charge for a 2-inch elastic bandage. Stephanie Allen, the 32-year-old educational technologist who sent it in, had been fighting the bill for a year, to no avail.
Yesterday, she shared a link to our post on the Florida hospital’s Facebook page. And today, she tells us, she awoke to an email from the hospital’s patient access director that included this:
I was sorry to hear about the issues you were having with your account. As a result, we have reviewed the charge information from your visit and discovered that the item that was charged at $1,126.00 was erroneously changed to this amount during a system update. The actual change for the 2” elastic bandage your received is $2.00. Your account has been credited $1,124.00. Please feel free to contact me if I may be of further assistance.
That’s the kind of news that can really make a blogger’s day. But more importantly, readers, what lessons do you see here? Clearly, ask for eye-popping bills to be itemized so you can check each charge, as Stephanie did. But perhaps the fresher lesson is that social media shaming can be a powerful tool for fighting bad charges — whether they’re mistakes or just intentionally astronomical. I’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter working wonders to get better customer service in the retail sector, but has anybody else tried posting sky-high charges on a hospital or health insurer’s Facebook or Twitter feed?
(Photo: Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
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: Continue reading
WBUR’s Martha Bebinger, who runs the online social network, HealthCare Savvy
, focuses on the experience of one man who had a bike accident
to try to help you better understand your medical bills. Here, on All Things Considered, the patient Eric Herot talks about his daunting, post-treatment flurry of bills with host Sacha Pfeiffer:
Last spring, Eric fell off his bike onto his elbow and, after several visits to an orthopedist, ended up with about 30 bills and claims summaries. We asked him to what degree he was able to make sense of those statements.
Eric Herot: I’d say about 50 percent. Some of these things seem like they should be straightforward, but then when you delve into it there’s the same thing listed with different prices. And then there’s a completely different bill I received that says, “emergency room, medical/surgical supply, pharmacy.” What do all these things mean?
Sacha Pfeiffer: In most cases you received two or more bills for the same visit. There’s one example I was looking at — it was your trip to the emergency room. There were three bills: one for an X-ray, another for reading the X-ray, plus something labeled “med/surg supply,” and a third for the visit itself. In each of those cases, did you know what you were paying for?
Herot: To some extent, yes. It helped that I was conscious during the visit, so I remembered everything I got and I sort of worked backwards based on what things were priced. Like, I’m fairly certain that the $1 pharmacy charge was probably the Aleve that I was given. Continue reading
A couple of days ago, The Boston Herald ran this story, saying:
U.S. taxpayers coughed up a staggering $35.7 million this year in free emergency health care for more than 52,000 illegal aliens in Massachusetts, sparking outrage from candidates and critics who back a tougher line on immigration. The figures — released by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration under an order for the Secretary of State’s office and after more than a month of ducking questions — show illegal immigrants who belong to MassHealth Limited received $33.8 million in taxpayer-funded in-patient hospital care this year. They also made 6,160 visits to the state’s overburdened emergency rooms in the fiscal year ending in June for an additional cost of $1.9 million, a Herald analysis shows.
WBUR has received several responses from health policy experts challenging the story and pointing out problems with it, including this one from Victoria Pulos of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. Readers, what did you think of the story?
Yesterday’s Boston Herald included an inflammatory and misleading article about illegal immigrants receiving free medical care at taxpayer expense through the emergency Medicaid program. (Illegals’medical bills top $35.7M, Oct. 27, 2010).
First, it implies that providing emergency Medicaid is a partisan issue and that a different administration would not provide emergency Medicaid. Not true. Emergency Medicaid is federally mandated. In order for Massachusetts to participate in the Medicaid program, which brings in billions of dollars in federal revenue, it must provide emergency Medicaid. Every state in the U.S., including those like Arizona that are hardly welcoming to illegal immigrants, provides emergency Medicaid. No candidate is proposing to withdraw Massachusetts from the Medicaid program which now covers over 1.2 million U.S. citizens and legal residents in the state.