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.