The $9.2 million hospital bill

When I lived in Hong Kong years ago I used to read about crazy stories happening in places like the Phillipines, where a woman supposedly gave birth to a fish. Hundreds of people came to see the miracle/freak show and it made for some light entertainment around the region. We don’t have a lot of stories like that in the US, but we do have some equally outlandish medical billing tales. Here’s one from FierceHealthcare about a woman whose estate received a $9.2 million bill from a hospital in Tampa, FL. The patient had progressive demyelinating neuropathy and passed away a couple years ago.

The patient’s mother Holly Bennett accused the hospital of not feeding her daughter and giving her too much morphine, which, she claimed, resulted in the patient’s weight falling to 37 pounds.

The hospital is suing the patient’s estate for the outstanding bill.

“If they think they’re getting money from me, they’re crazy,” Bennett said in the article. “Who’s ever even heard of a bill that high?”

Although the hospital charges will likely drop to $2.25 million after readjustments, Bennett told ABC News she would not pay the multimillion-dollar bill. She said that she never received an itemized bill during the five years of treatment and that the lawsuit is a strategy to prevent her from filing her own lawsuit for medical malpractice against the hospital.

I’m sure there’s much more to the story than the article reveals. Still, it demonstrates a number of flaws in the system. Notably, the bill is beyond any reasonable comprehension and “readjustments” that can turn $9.2 million into $2.25 million show there’s no rational basis for pricing. Obviously something wasn’t managed well along the way if the bills were allowed to linger unpaid for five years. Why didn’t the patient have insurance or sign up for Medicaid? And clearly the customer service experience appears to have been worse than most.

It’s pretty obvious that the hospital won’t recover its expenses from this patient’s estate. But if the costs are real, someone is paying. It’s probably commercially insured patients paying more than they should.

July 29, 2011

2 thoughts on “The $9.2 million hospital bill”

  1. In my country the medical help and maintenance is free of charge for the most part. It means no such huge unreasonable bills. However, the whole system has sunk in flaws… and I am now sure which one is better..

  2. @Clair – “In my country the medical help and maintenance is free of charge”

    I disagree with your statement. Case in point: (and I’m not assuming you live in Norway). I’m only using Norway as an example of a country that provides “free” healthcare services.

    In Norway income tax (“inntektsskatt”) and wealth tax (“formuesskatt”) are direct taxes (“direkte skatter”). Income tax is paid directly as a percentage of income, whereas wealth tax is a tax on things you own, such as a house, bank deposits etc. Taxes are paid both to the state and the local municipality. In addition, a premium is paid to the social security system to finance public hospitals, medical treatment and various social benefits.

    My employer, while living in Norway from 2001-2001, was required to automatically withhold 58% of my pay every month for taxes. My point is, there’s no such thing as “free” healthcare. If you work and pay taxes, you are paying for your healthcare.

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