Quick Visit to the “ER” Costs Family over $18G

Most of us will be treated at an “ER” at some point in our lives. Usually, it’s our “anxiety” that overwhelms us and ultimately drives us to seek emergency medical assistance, only to find out that in many cases the medical emergency was far less dire than we imagined.

No doubt a relief, until you receive the bill, and realize your brief visit has just cost you thousands of dollars of which your insurance company will only cover a fraction.

Such was the case for a South Korean family on vacation in San Francisco in 2016 when their infant son suddenly turned over on the hotel bed and fell to the floor hitting his head, and began crying hysterically. The frantic parents immediately picked him up concerned that he may have injured himself (although the child never lost consciousness), decided as a precaution to take him to the emergency room.

Doctors at the hospital quickly determined that eight-month-old Park jeong-whan was fine. The treatments provided; a bottle of baby formula, a little nap, and a quick “look-see” by a resident physician, and within a few hours the child was discharged, end of story.

Until the parents, two years later, back in South Korea received a bill from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, for $18,836.

“If my baby got special treatment, OK,” Jang Yeo-im, the baby’s mother, told reporters, “But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill?”

The family was billed over $15,000 for “trauma activation,” according to a report by Vox.com, in which the hospital responds to a potentially serious emergency room visit, which can range anywhere from $1,000 to as much as $50,000 dollars, according to the report.

Moreover, the almost $19,000 tab isn’t a fluke, in that all emergency rooms in America charge excessive fees. Zuckerberg Hospital, of course, defends the unrestrained fees, citing the costs of keeping a good trauma team on hand 24/7.

Perhaps just as egregious regarding unrestricted costs, is the secrecy associated with the fees “ER’s” charges its patients.

Experts studying trauma cost fees within emergency rooms across America say there’s little rationale on how hospitals calculate their charges and when the fee is actually billed to a patient. Which begs the question “WHY?”

Take the recent case of Alexa Sulvetta, a 30-year-old nurse who broke her ankle in a rock climbing incident at a San Francisco gym and was billed 31,250 dollars, worst yet the cost was “out-of-pocket.”

The scenario of events perhaps explains the insane costs, in that Alexa was brought to the hospital by ambulance, where she recalled, “My foot was twisted sideways. I had been given morphine in the ambulance.”

She was then quickly evaluated by an “ER” doctor and sent in for “emergency surgery” which of course triggered the hefty fees, resulting in almost 16,000 dollars in a “trauma response fee” and an overall bill of $113,336, which her insurance provider refused to pay.

After negotiations with the insurance provider, the hospital settled for charges deemed “reasonable.” Now here’s the kicker the hospital after settling with the insurance provider went after Alexa for an additional $31,250.

Jang Yeo-im and Alexa Sulvetta are just two examples of an “out-of-control” healthcare system. However, before we began to politicize the issue between government-run health care versus the private sector. It’s worth reminding all, that we already have a template for government-sponsored healthcare through the VA system in which thousands of veterans were ignored, records falsified, and those accountable (through a maze of government bureaucracy), were never brought to justice, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of veterans.

Moreover, an “Obama-light” healthcare plan was tried in Bernie Sanders home-state of Vermont and failed miserably. Within just 4-years after implementing the program, Vermont almost went bankrupt with an estimated cost (the last year) of 4.3 billion dollars, which was almost the entire state budget of Vermont’s $4.9 billion.

Ryan Stanton, an emergency room doctor in Lexington, Kentucky, and a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians acknowledged, “We have to prepare for the sickest of the sick.”

Arguing that the cost of keeping their lights on and doors open 24 hours each day, seven days a week is the price we pay for emergency rooms, which once again begs the question, what’s the difference between a hospital and an emergency room? Don’t they both keep hospital staff, seven days a week, 24-hours a day?

Obviously something needs to be done regarding the out of control costs; perhaps a good place to start is to have “transparency” and “accountability” regarding the fees charged in emergency rooms as a starter.

The hidden fees and the ambiguous costs in providing services go against our American traditions of being well informed. Especially within a stressful environment of seeking emergency medical assistance, moreover professional fees for services rendered shouldn’t be a guessing game for the average patient “walking into an emergency room.”

However more importantly it seems hospitals are using their emergency rooms as lucrative cash cows, at the expense of patients seeking medical aid.

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17 comments

  1. I had a concrete wall fall on me and cracked 5 ribs, dislocated a shoulder and ankle. An ambulance arrived within 10 minutes, took me in, x-rayed, bandaged and medicated me. My daughter and a neighbor came to pick me up a couple of hours later….The total bill was $90. It was such good service, that I paid an extra 20 bucks or so. It was a red-cross hospital here in Cordoba, MEXICO. Not a govt. hospital, (which would have been free, but slow).
    Get govt. OUT of anything, and it will be better.

  2. Maxine should be sued by some of those people so confronted. And yes ‘mental injury’ due to such confrontation is a real thing.

  3. Not mentioned is the South Korean couples charges are covered under treaties established to protect tourism. The US paid the tab for the South Koreans emergency room visit.

    • “The US” paid? hmmm… who would that be? ah, yes, US, the taxpayers. This is nothing but legalized highway robbery. I used to want to work in the healthcare system, but the more I look at it, the more I want to stay the heck away from it. Why would I want to be part of this insane criminal gang that charges people the most insane bills for doing almost nothing?
      When we first came to the states during Reagan, things were fairly normal. since then healthcare costs have skyrocketed to the point that they are offensive.
      To top it off, thanks to Obamacare, the fucked up IRS penalizes US citizens who cannot afford health insurance with penalties worth thousands of dollars. Americans are stupider than shit to let this happen in this country. We can thank the messed up legal system, the lack of common sense everywhere and the millions of illegals that get free health care because they almost never ever pay any bill. and here I am, suffering with serious symptoms, and not daring to go to the doctor because I’m scared shitless about the insane bills, and not only that, I’d accept the insane costs IF they actually got to the bottom of the problem, but the last several times I went, they never figured out anything even though I have obvious symptoms that I experience every day.

    • Brent Reinhardt

      Maybe so under the “treaties” act, but who is the “US”. The “US” is US, the taxpayers. We (US) get stuck with all the unpaid bills and our taxes keep going up. I agree these expenses need to be negotiated downward so we (the “US”) don’t get slammed (scammed) on the final bill.

    • Called double billing. In Florida I was later billed separately for pathology services which I never had done by the nature of the illness. I simply wrote on the bill “this service was not done” and mailed it back to them, and never heard from them again. This could be a rip off performed by outsiders who have gotten hold of the patient’s name and address from the wastebasket, etc.

  4. Transparency in medical bills would be a good thing, but I doubt that in the instance cited in this article, it would have made much difference. Shopping for health care is not the same thing as shopping for a pair of tennis shoes – especially in the case of an emergency when comparison shopping may simply not be practicable.

    We also need to understand the interplay between insurance and no insurance, and the requirement that care facilities must treat everyone who enters their doors, regardless of ability to pay. In the insured world, large insurance companies (including Medicare) have the ability to negotiate prices for services that are frequently far below the initial cost that may appear on a patient’s EOB. Consider also that the cost of health care is not the same thing as the cost of insurance. With 30-40 million Americans who have no health insurance, the cost of health care far exceeds the cost of insurance. If you are lucky enough to have health insurance, in most cases (excepting possibly high deductible or short term plans) you will be fine, but for everyone else – who can’t negotiate favorable pricing – the costs can be ruinous.

    Government run health care facilities such as the VA are not the answer, but the highly successful Medicare insurance program – also run by the government- offers a lesson in where the government may play a useful role in health insurance. Even better would be some form of universal coverage, keeping in mind that insurance is merely a means to spread the cost and risk of health care and will not necessarily affect the cost of health care itself. The simple truth is that, as a society, we are already paying for the cost of health care (insurance premiums, taxes, higher medical costs, excessive medical treatment, charitable donations, etc.), but as this story illustrates, the burden of health care costs falls far harder on some people than others.

  5. Part of that cost is also that some folks in the US use the ER as their primary care. Unfortunately the medicare and medicaid allowances don’t begin to cover the actual cost to the hospital and these exorbitant fees are actually cost shifting to those with other types of insurance.

  6. One thing I suggest is to paint basic standard fees in large figures upon the wall of the ER. Hourly use of the room, basic doctor visit, and nurse’s rate. Upon being transported to hospital, visitors have no idea what they might have to pay, unlike other vended services, such as buying gasoline.

  7. Actually what’s crazier is if you are an illegal immigrant you can go to ER and never see a bill. As a healthcare worker I have seen quite a few young people go to multiple Emergency rooms multiple times in a week for something as simple as a cough. Or they “walk in” to get treatment for a diagnosed disease or cancer from their home country. They never see the bill and don’t care about the costs. Then I see elderly Americans not being able to afford medications, tests or seeing a specialist. There is discrimination against U.S. citizens in healthcare

  8. The US wanted employer paid insurance way back when. It wanted HMO’s. The bonding of health care to third parties was ignorant. But it looked like a freebie and the population loves that. Then the medical establishment said, “Oh, wow, the patients aren’t paying so we can up the charges.” The hospitals and drug companies didn’t want to be left there without a feed bag on so they joined the feast. And thus your broken bones are a cash cow. Oncology is one of the best at conning – the mark up on chemo is enormous. From NYT: “Dr. Thomas J. Smith, an associate professor of oncology at the Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University, has estimated that oncologists in private practice typically make two-thirds of their practice revenue from the chemotherapy concession.”

  9. I’m still waiting for that biggly fantastic, most comprehensive, cheapest best health care plan that will cover everybody and will be made available on the first day!!! Maybe instead of pushing divisive issues like racism, and giving $Billionaires$ tax breaks maybe the GOP should try and work toward single payer health care. You know, something that is good for everyone.

  10. You bash the VA healthcare system-presumably because its a government run system. Yes something should be done to correct this problem. But medicare for the most part works (socialized medicine). I use medicare and find it to be very good. I see any doctor I want. I walk out of most medical offices and facilities without having to pay. Yes there is an annual deductible to pay, but the medical treatment I get is worth more than the deductible. And I am not discriminated against for having medicare. Medicare for all !

  11. So who do you think will try and solve the lack of healthcare problem? Well Dems tried once and it was repealed by the GOP. My money is on the Dems….. Vote this November!

    • Leon. Gasperment

      I have urinary catheter .it gets blocked. Sometimes if I go to emergency for them to. Flush it which takes twenty minutes I am there. 6 hrs and the bill is close to 2000 dollars which I have to pay 800 with New Jersey blue cross blue shield so now I flush it myself and save 800 dollars plus 1200 more that the insurance. Does not get billed for. The er doc said u should not be coming here your urologist should show u how to. Flush it

  12. I believe the health insurance companies need to be the ones mandated to provide coverage to those who need it, not the people needing it. And the costs would need to be reasonable.

    And so it would be up to individuals if they wanted coverage or not, but if they want it, they would have to show legitimate need for it, otherwise insurers could refuse them coverage. But how to show legitimacy, what evidence or even proof would be needed to be shown, when they (legitimacy, evidence and/or proof) would need to be shown, to whom and by whom they would need to be shown and who determines all of that, I don’t know. I haven’t been able to work all of that out yet.

    Also I believe the rich shouldn’t be allowed to get coverage but pay their medical bills out of pocket despite what other costs they may have. I think the limit should be circa $400,000 per year. In other words, anyone making that much or more per year in anything or way (working (employment) income, monetary gifts of any amount, assets (liquid or not,) trust funds, tax breaks (non payment, deferments, shelters and so on,) etcetera) instead of getting cost breaks (which they seem to get a lot of on almost anything, and those breaks are reprehensible).

    That’s my thought on health insurance.

  13. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website? My website is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would really benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Regards!

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