In 2011 I was on a golf course out of town when my wife called me from the hotel pool. Our 16 year old daughter took a charge in a basketball game and was on her way to the hospital. Ever get a photo texted to you with your kid in a neck brace, strapped to a back board? Not fun.
They did an X-Ray of her upper spine and a CT-scan of her head. It was a pretty good shot she’d taken and the doctors were very thorough because she complained of some neck pain. I was very happy with the care she received. I am not one to worry about so-called, “over testing.” This is my kid and if a few extra tests were done to be 110% sure everything was ok, I’m happy to pay for them.
Then the hospital bill showed up: $12,154.70. Wow.
Fortunately I had excellent health insurance coverage and with the negotiated rates, I was entitled to a 92% discount. Cost: $980. Very fair, I thought to myself.
Now, most people would be happy—even relieved—and would simply pay the bill. But I didn’t. Because I was struck by something else. $12,154.70! What was that all about? So instead of paying the bill I wrote to the hospital. I explained that there must be a mistake because the bill essentially was saying that if I didn’t have great insurance or was uninsured, I’d be asked to pay $12,154.70 for a relatively minor ER visit. Surely the actual price must be less than $12,154.70. There must have been a mistake. I asked the hospital to send me its entire price list. First they cited law that says they don’t have to provide estimates for emergency services. Of course it’s not reasonable to stop and ask for a cost estimate when being wheeled in on a gurney. What I was asking for was a price list BEFORE that happened so that I can decide in advance where I want to be taken. The hospital refused. We have a President who is tells us to become better healthcare consumers. Ask yourselves, how can we become better healthcare consumers if a hospital won’t list its prices?
In 2013 the same daughter, now a freshman in college, got another concussion playing center on the flag football team and ended up in the ER. She was in and out quickly—no CT scans, no x-rays required. And no $12,000 bills. Just about $1,500. Oddly though, the ER visit in 2011 was classified as a Level III visit while this new one was apparently much more complicated—at Level IV. Oh, and after I foolishly paid the bill, thinking $1,500 was it, I got the physician’s bill a few weeks later. $890.
I called my Chief Medical Officer, he happens to be an ER physician and Board Chairman of an insurance company that insures ER physicians. In other words, he knows emergency rooms. He was floored by an $895.00 bill for a minor concussion, explaining $200.00 would be the most.
I’d spent the last few years educating myself on the system. So again I started writing letters. I got the same answers, different hospital. For more than a year now I’ve been demanding a simple price list. I’ve explained to the hospital that my daughter—and her schoolmates—are away from home without their parents. They don’t know the area hospitals and they’ve never had to make their own healthcare decisions before.
During my daughter’s freshman year she wound up in the ER a total of three times. Once for the concussion, once for pneumonia and once because the pneumonia was misdiagnosed and she had to return.
I’ve been trading letters with the hospital for over a year now. To-date they’ve provided me with nothing but excuses and it appears that the hospital is attempting to merely walk away from the bills. I’ve spoken to an executive in their account office and requested that they sue me.
“Really he asked—you want us to sue you?”
“He laughed. “How are you going to force us to sue you?”
“Simple,” I said. “I’m going to start educating your community on how to write letters and demand your prices. No one is every going to pay you again. You’ll have to sue people and when you do, we’ll get your pricing put into the public domain through the discovery process. At the same time, that will create a huge financial problem for you.”
The last time I heard from the hospital was in August 2014. In December 2014 I called and asked about our bill. They said I didn’t owe them anything. How could that be?
“Sir, it looks like it went to collections in August so we zero it out in our system.”
“But I haven’t heard from any collections agency.”
“Then I wouldn’t worry about it,” the woman on the phone said.
“But I am worried. Please give me the name and number for your collections agency.” And she did.
I called. They have no record of the bills. They searched on my name, my daughter’s name, the account numbers… Nothing.
Elisabeth Evans was a contestant in the 2015 Costs Of Care Essay Contest.