The Houston Chronicles' excellent article titled "Cracking the Code: How facility procedure codes can become weapons" is a must-read. It illustrates just one cog in the health industrial complex's method of ripping people off, the grand pilfer.
Her dizziness for which they were incompetent to diagnose appropriately still resulted in a $15,000 bill. What profession allows that kind of billing without guaranteed success or satisfaction?
Sarah Hirsch was teaching a second-period art class at Manvel High School in November when she felt as if the room was spinning. It was unnerving enough that she went to the school nurse’s office to lie down and soon felt better. But when she stood, the dizziness came back.
The cause of Hirsch’s symptom was never determined, but the doctor who saw her the next day quickly discovered fluid in her ears, a common cause of dizziness that usually requires no immediate treatment. Yet, by the time she left the Montrose Emergency Center, a free-standing emergency room, Hirsch had accumulated more than $15,000 in charges that included two CAT scans, an electrocardiogram, two urine tests, blood work, and an IV of saline solution to prevent dehydration — even though she was told she was not dehydrated.
She now owes $13,794.49 because insurance covered less than 10 percent of the charges since it was out-of-network.
He hit his head, used superglue to fix his wound, and then two days later stepped into a facility just to make sure. He ended up with a $1,200 dollar bill for a 20-minute visit.
In January 2018, Richard Kelley tried to step over his sprawled Labrador retriever just as the dog stood up. The Tomball construction manager went tumbling into the corner of a granite countertop, opening a cut to his temple.
Kelley, 63, was in pain and bleeding, but not hurt badly. He applied some do-it-yourself doctoring to the wound and closed it with Super Glue. He wasn’t disoriented and did not feel nauseous.
Still, his wife, Maxine, was worried about infection. Two days later, Kelley agreed to have the cut checked. He couldn’t get an appointment with his doctor, so he tried the Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center nearby. He didn’t know anything about it, but the receptionist promised no waiting.
A few minutes later, the doctor felt along Kelley’s eye socket and cheekbone and declared nothing broken. He asked Kelley about concussion warning signs.
“Richard, I don’t think stitches are going to help you any,” Kelley said the doctor told him. The nurse applied a few Steri-strips across the cut and Kelley was done. The whole deal, from walking in to walking out, took about 20 minutes, he said.
In March, the couple got a bill from Memorial Hermann. They owed $1,188.75 for the facility fee described as emergency care.
All he needed was a tetanus shot he would have gotten for free at Walgreen. It cost him $1,900 + $200 copay = $2,100.
What Philip McCraw needed was a tetanus shot after poking himself in the arm with a rusty nail while doing yard work last summer. What he got was a bill for nearly $1,900.
The San Antonio teacher didn’t have a regular doctor. He thought about going to the Mission Trail Baptist Hospital emergency room, but he figured the wait would be too long and expensive for something so minor. He called a walk-in place called Baptist Emergency Hospital and was told to come in.
He said the first words out of his mouth were: “Can you check my insurance to see what my coverage is?” He had Aetna. The woman at the front desk said it was against policy to provide such information before treatment, he said. He asked someone else who also would not confirm coverage.
Only after he went into a treatment room was he told he owed a $200 co-pay for emergency room services. McCraw, incredulous, said he wanted to refuse service and leave.
“OK,” he said he was told, “but we’re going to charge you anyway because you came back.”
“Right then I knew I was in a pickle,” he said.
These corporations running free-standing emergency rooms are not doing anything illegal. They are playing by the tenets of our economic system. All of those who think Medicare for All would result in the takeover of America's healthcare should ask themselves how well is the private system working.
Those private urgent care centers and private emergency rooms popping up in strip marts are nothing more than profit centers for major corporations. They sell healthcare services like any product, by mostly lying or highlighting the aspects you want to hear.
If a corporation is selling clothes, shoes, electronic equipment, or other trinkets, who cares if prices or description are less than accurate or untruthful. We have a choice to purchase or not, be gullible or not.
When it comes to healthcare there is something fundamentally immoral to apply that same model. If folks do not want government control of healthcare, then open the door for controlled non-profits whose goals are good healthcare for all via Single-Payer Medicare for All.
My goal is to continue to highlight the immorality of our healthcare system and grander, our economic system that by design hurt most of us to benefit a few. I hope most will read these articles in that context. I had my own experience with one of those "legal theft" free-standing emergency rooms. I've lived it. And my wife has lived through the basic thievery of our healthcare system as well.