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July 13, 2018

Mother received $18,000 hospital bill after baby was treated with nap and bottle of formula

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A concerned mother took her baby to a hospital after he bumped his head and got handed a hefty bill

Jang Yeo-im’s vacation to San Francisco had just begun when her eight-month-old son Park Jeongfell off the bed in the family’s hotel room and hit his head.

The baby's forehead and nose were bruised and he wouldn't stop crying so Jang and her husband called 911, and an ambulance took the family to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, reported  Vox.com.

The doctors at the hospital examined baby Jeong and said he was fine apart from his bruises. They gave him some infant formula to drink, and he napped in his mother's arms.

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A few hours later the baby was discharged with a clean bill of health. The family, South Korean tourists, continued their vacation, and the incident was quickly forgotten - until they received a hospital bill totaling $18.000.

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“It’s like the Wild West. Any trauma center can decide what their activation fee is”

Dr. Renee Hsia, University of California, Vox.com

According to the bill the family owed the hospital $18,836 for the 3 hours and 22-minute visit, the bulk of which was a $15,666 “trauma activation fee."

Jang, whose travel insurance covers only $5,000 in medical bills, was devastated since they would have to cover the remaining 13.000 out of their own pockets.

Jang contends that “If my baby got special treatment, okay. That would be okay. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”

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So was the family's travel insurance inadequate? Or are the American hospital bills completely out of sync with the rest of the world?

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American hospital bills are padded with multiplying fees, many of which don’t even exist in other countries: fees for blood draws, fees for checking the blood oxygen level with a skin probe, fees for putting on a cast, minute-by-minute fees for lying in the recovery room.

Another blatant case was Alexa Sulvetta, a 30-year-old nurse, who broke her ankle rock climbing at her gym. Her total medical bill was $113,336, and $31,250 of that total sum was “trauma activation fee."

Sulvetta was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where she was evaluated by an emergency medicine doctor and sent for emergency surgery. She was discharged the next day.

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A trauma fee is the price a trauma center charges when it activates and assembles a team of medical professionals that can meet a patient with potentially serious injuries in the ER.

In case of a life-threatening situation, this would be perfectly understandable, but the fee is billed automatically, even for a head bump, as the Jang family discovered.

“Trauma activation fees" vary wildly, from $1,112 at a hospital in Missouri to $50,659 at a hospital in California.

Medliminal, a company that specializes in helping insurers identify medical billing errors say that there’s little rationale behind how hospitals calculate the charges and what is billed to the patient.

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Dr. Renee Hsia, director of health policy studies in the emergency medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco speaks of 'Wild West' arbitrary rates that have little or no reflection in real life costs.

The Jangs have depleted their savings, and Sulvetta - faced with a $113,336 bill - has had to use the money intended to buy her family a home towards paying a hospital bill. 

Her broken ankle has cost her as much as an average home. It seems Americans can't afford to get sick, she quipped.

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