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Austin American Statesman Covers Confusing World Of Hospital Costs

One of the most frustrating issues for our personal injury clients is dealing with hospitals and hospital charges that don’t seem to make any sense.

Yesterday, Austin American Statesman writer Mary Ann Roser had a great story that looks at the mysterious world of emergency room and hospital charges.  She took the time to research the costs of various procedures at different facilities, and her results are stunning.

For example, she found that the cost of treatment for a stroke could range anywhere from $68,188 to $7.990 depending on which hospital provided the care.  Similar disparities existed for all other kinds of treatment.

This generally isn’t a problem for those who have health insurance because the insurance companies have negotiated rates (usually MUCH lower than these rates) with the various hospital systems, but it is a huge problem for those who don’t have insurance.  The uninsured are left to try and negotiate reductions for themselves, and without the leverage of a large health insurance company behind them, most of those negotiations are unsuccessful.

It’s even worse for injury victims.  Hospitals who provide emergency care to injury victims are entitled by law to file a lien against the victim’s recovery in any future personal injury case.  That lien removes what little negotiating power the patient has, and injury victims are often exploited for a large portion of these made up charges.

One of my favorite examples of these abuses is a relatively new “Trauma Activation Fee” that Brackenridge Hospital is trying to add to many patients’ bills.  If you’re unlucky enough to be taken to Brackenridge and they activate a trauma team (regardless of whether you need it), they charge a trauma activation fee ($14,247.50 for a Trauma II charge; I don’t know the charge for Trauma I).  You get charged this fee even though you didn’t request and often when you don’t need it.  And yet, if you’re uninsured, you have little leverage to negotiate it down.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is supposed to help prevent these abusive practices, but we’re still not seeing those results yet.  Often, when I talk to hospital representatives to negotiate bills and inform them of the law, the representatives have never heard of it before.

It is a problem, and I appreciate the Statesman bringing it to light


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