Bitter Pill: Our Strange, First Foray through the Medical Billing Gauntlet

Tuesday Feb 26 | BY |
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medical billing

LOL, when I first downloaded this image I didn’t realize that it was either Chinese or Japanese — which means this bill “might” be without excessive mark up. That is if I could read it…

A friend of mine suggested that I read an article called “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” recently published in Time Magazine.

When he told me about it, he wouldn’t give me more details than tell me it was shocking, relevant to Renegade Health and said that I should read it as soon as I could.

“Right now?” I asked.

“Right now.” He said.

A few hours later, at dinner alone in Austin, I pulled out my iPad and found it online. I read the entire 11 (web) pages in one sitting. (In fact, I read it again the next morning.)

It’s probably the most interesting article I’ve read on the health care industry in years. It’s also the most disgusting.

Writer Steven Brill exposes how hospitals bill patients and the staggering differences between what they collect depending on if the patient is insured, uninsured or on Medicare.

Essentially, uninsured people sometimes pay 10-100 times what Medicare would pay for the same services administered and about 2-10 times what private insurance companies pay.

To give you a quick example, Janice S. an anonymous, uninsured patient found herself with $21,000 in hospital bills after a heartburn attack. The disparity between what the hospital wanted her to pay and what they usually collect from insurance agencies and Medicare is borderline criminal. Here are some examples:

“The expensive technology deployed on Janice S. was a bigger factor in her bill than the lab tests. An “NM MYO REST/SPEC EJCT MOT MUL” was billed at $7,997.54. That’s a stress test using a radioactive dye that is tracked by an X-ray computed tomography, or CT, scan. Medicare would have paid Stamford $554 for that test.

“Janice S. was charged an additional $872.44 just for the dye used in the test. The regular stress test patients are more familiar with, in which arteries are monitored electronically with an electrocardiograph, would have cost far less — $1,200 even at the hospital’s chargemaster price. (Medicare would have paid $96 for it.”

I’m not going to recap all the details here in this article, you can read that in full here. (Which I think is just short of mandatory reading for all Americans and anyone else who doesn’t like to get fleeced.)

What I’m going do here is tell you a personal story that is a real life example of what Brill outlines — a hospital and billing experience that Annmarie and I went through during the birth of our child, Hudson.

Our situation clearly outlines three major points discussed in the article — bill discounting, ambulance fees and unnecessary doctor visits. I’m not going to mention the hospital, because for the most part — though somewhat luckily as you’ll read — have had a decent experience with them.

What you hope for, may not be what you get.

We had hoped for a home birth. We hired a midwife who we connected with immediately. She was of Eastern European decent which made us happy for two reasons — first, we’ve found many Europeans to be much less prude about anything dealing with private parts — including birth — than us Americans, and second, most Eastern Europeans that we know don’t shy away from being direct. This a quality we wanted in a midwife, since we were getting into something completely unknown to us and needed someone who could assist us as well as direct us through chaos, if it were to happen.

Our choice turned out to be the right one.

During Hudson’s birth, everything was going smoothly in our apartment. Ann’s contractions were strong, but she allowed them to take over her and be calm by not fighting. The only thing bothersome to her was the occasional commercial on our pre-chosen Pandora station (my fault.)

After her water broke, our midwife noticed — during routine heartbeat checks — that the baby’s heart rate was dropping when Ann was pushing. This wasn’t of concern at first, but as time went on, she cautioned us about it and told us that if it continued, she felt it was appropriate to go to the hospital. We both agreed. We’re natural lifestyle people, but we’re not so foolish to disregard a midwife who’s had almost 30 years of experience.

As time passed, the contractions and heart rate drops became more frequent and she gave Ann 15 more minutes. After that, we’d have to go to the hospital.

Fifteen minutes later and still no baby, she told us it was time to go.

In a very crazy 2-3 minutes, I called an ambulance (since driving wasn’t an option, the baby could have been born on the way to the hospital), called the hospital and gathered our go-bag. Within six, we were in the ambulance on our way to the hospital.

The two minute baby.

We had been to the optional course the hospital gives for those expecting to deliver at their facility, but we never expected we’d have to worry about those details. Luckily, our midwife, again, had prepared us well enough that we knew what to expect.

On intake, a nurse asked us if we had a birth plan. This is a plan that we agreed upon beforehand that outlines how we’d like to be treated. Our hospital — I think since we’re in the progressive Bay Area — is extremely progressive and the patient actually does have some sort of choice. I can imagine some hospitals would not be so accommodating.

I explained that we wanted a drugless birth, but if the situation escalated our ultimate goal was a healthy baby and healthy mom — so that meant whatever it took to ensure that this happened. The nurse seemed to take this in stride. I imagine he sees a lot of neo-crunchy people like us. Why wouldn’t he? We do live in Berkeley.

After that quick exchange, Ann was quickly whisked away to a birthing room with a doctor, nurses, mom and me in tow.

Within minutes, with maybe two or three pushes and no medications for mom, Hudson was born.

(I gave a fist pump when I saw his penis and Ann knew right away it was a boy. LOL!)

After his birth, everyone vacated the room for at least two hours of skin to skin time for Ann and Hudson. We were thrilled they allowed this without any additional poking, prodding, weighing, or injecting. They also, surprisingly enough, let us keep the placenta to encapsulate, as long as we signed a waiver that we wouldn’t encapsulate it. LOL.

That evening we stayed at the hospital and the next day, after a few rounds of testing, doctor check-ins, lactation consultant visits, poo counting (for the baby) and my urging to let us leave, Ann was discharged at about 4:00 PM.

On the way out, I needed to go down to financial services to take care of the billing.

The $5000 deductible.

Ann and I have health insurance.

We didn’t have it for years due to a few reasons. First, we were self-employed and there were times when we just couldn’t afford it. Second, we were eating healthy and never went to the doctor. If we did, which I don’t remember a time due to illness, we told each other we’d pay out of pocket. It was much cheaper to pay $100-500 one time than hundreds of dollars a month for coverage we weren’t using.

Once we knew we wanted to have a baby, our thinking changed. We no longer were taking care of just the two of us, so we signed up Annmarie for a $5000 deductible program. This simply meant that we would pay for any hospital care under $5000 — with some blood tests and other visits given at a discount. Basically, this is what you would call major catastrophic insurance. Something that I think is very smart to have — particularly in light of this recent article. Some people can accumulate bills of over $80,000 — the amount of a full 4 years of college education — during one overnight stay. This amount of money is financially debilitating to probably 99% of the American population.

I’ve since gotten the same coverage, and with it came relief that I don’t get the occasional tinge of fear when I think about not being insured.

Anyway, at the financial services desk, the woman behind the counter joked about our very short birth — “you’re the two minute dad!” — and gave me the bill. In this case, I knew what to expect. $5000.

I didn’t have to pay now and she also told me that I can apply for financial aid to lower the bill. She told me I should do it, since everyone gets a discount. I was surprised that she told me I could apply for this so openly, but was happy that I might be able to pay less than the sticker price for the birth. I got all the paperwork and took it home to fill out later in the week. Now wasn’t the time to worry about bills, we had a baby to get to know.

A financial slip up and a fortuitous letter

In our much less frequent free time, we attempted to work with the financial aid office to work out a deal. We faxed tax returns, extension letters, and just about everything that they wanted. But, about a month after our last contact, we had still heard nothing. I dislike loose ends, so I asked Annmarie to call and check in. They told her that we were still missing a few things that we had already faxed over. When Ann told the woman we had already faxed them, she checked and found them filed incorrectly. Our file was complete — it just needed to be reviewed. She also informed Ann that since this was taking so long, she would mark the file so that it wouldn’t go to collections.

A few days later, we received a letter in the mail.

Our bill was going to collections.


As you can imagine, I was mad. I don’t like it when I’m told something is being done and find out later that it is not.

But after reading the short, three or four paragraph letter, we realized that this not a warning and a threat, but a negotiation.

Our hospital wanted to offer us a reduced bill so they didn’t have to sell the debt to a collections agency. If we paid just around $2,600 of the original $5000 in the next few weeks, we could stop the bill from going to collections.

Basically, if I was reading the letter correctly, we was getting around a 40% discount on our bill and the hospital was glad to accept that much. I was completely unaware that it was possible to negotiate with a hospital, nor did I fully believe that a deal like this was legit — I assumed there were strings attached. (When you read Brill’s article, you’ll find this is commonplace, even before a pre-collections letter is sent. In fact, there are agencies devoted to negotiating your hospital bills on your behalf.)

The next day, I contacted the financial office and talked to the representative there. I had three questions for her.

1. If I paid the bill at a discount, would it stop any other collections proceedings?

2. If I paid the bill at a discount, would it increase any of our monthly premium payments or affect our standing with the hospital?

3. If I waited for financial aid, would the bill be less or more than this negotiated figure?

For the first question, the answer was a yes. I didn’t want to possibly damage our credit for a few thousand dollars, but when assured this wouldn’t happen, I was OK with paying the discount.

The second, was a no. I was afraid that by accepting the lower bill, I would tarnish our record with the hospital — just like how getting into an accident can cause your car insurance company to raise your premium or drop you altogether. She explained that this happens all the time and there would be no issue with the hospital moving forward. I was a little shocked, and wondered if this was too good to be true.

On the third question, she told me that the break was just about the same. Furthermore, she explained that we had actually been denied financial aid and would be getting a letter in the next few days. So we didn’t get the aid, but we could get the discount.

I was satisfied with her explanation, paid for the bill on a credit card that we pay off monthly and saved over $2000 (plus got some airline miles.) Not a bad deal and a surprise that we stumbled upon because of a mistake in the notes on our file.

The totals…

If we were uninsured, the total bill for the hospital would have been over $10,000. With our insurance, our deductible and bill was for $5000, but because of good fortune we only paid around $2600. Essentially, we paid about 25% of the sticker price for the services given (or billed.) If we hadn’t had any insurance, I assume we would have paid it in full, since it was just by luck that we received the pre-collections letter. We would have paid over $7000 more than we did — as much as a decent used car.

The Time article affirms that most people (including us until recently) have have no idea that hospital bills for the most part are negotiable — and the fact that they are is because they’re so seriously inflated.

After reading Brill’s article, I wondered if I could have paid less. What if Annmarie was 65 and on Medicare (and pregnant?!?) Would Medicare have paid 5, 10, or 15% of the total bill?

Ultimately, we are satisfied with what we did pay and, of course, the outcome — which was much more important — a healthy mom and healthy baby. We likely would have paid any multiple of what we did to ensure this. Which is part of the underlying problem.

People will pay anything to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy — at least when they have an illness or disease that requires a hospital stay or ongoing care. So the question becomes, how much markup is ethical? Hospital billing practices fall into a gray zone where it’s essential to weigh the cost of care versus the service you’re providing people in your community (in some cases saving lives.) Effective emergency care can mean that you see a loved one again, but you shouldn’t have to live with them in financial ruin afterwards.

Another surprise

A few weeks after paying the bill, we received a letter from the Berkeley Fire Department. Our ambulance ride had cost us almost $2000. This apparently was not covered by insurance. Annmarie called to confirm this and the hospital said sometimes the ride is paid for and sometimes it is not. What we could do is submit it to the financial office and see if they’ll pick up the bill.

In the meantime, Ann called the Fire Department and asked for a deal. They, just like in Brill’s article, confirmed that they don’t give discounts, but would be willing to allow us to make interest free payments of $75 a month until it was paid off. That was agreeable — at least until we got word from the hospital as to whether or not they’d pick up the bill.

We’re still somewhere in this process 7 months later, but based on our previous experience, I’m actually somewhat hopeful we can work something out.

A revolving door of doctors.

Before I wrap this up, there was one other thing that happened to us during our stay that the article possibly confirmed.

Until I read the Time magazine article, I would joke with friends and family about how many doctor visits we were subjected to the next day in the hospital. There were so many, in fact, that we asked them to stop coming in — we didn’t want to be bothered.

Apparently, this could have been evidence of a practice of providing too much care to pad a bill.

On this practice, here’s another clip from the article:

“One of the benefits attending physicians get from many hospitals is the opportunity to cruise the halls and go into a Medicare patient’s room and rack up a few dollars,” says a doctor who has worked at several hospitals across the country. “In some places it’s a Monday-morning tradition. You go see the people who came in over the weekend. There’s always an ostensible reason, but there’s also a lot of abuse.”

I don’t want to accuse this facility of doing what is suggested above, but it’s a very compelling argument as to why we had at least three different doctors come in to examine the baby on more than one occasion in less than 6 hours — all with the same examination and advice for us.

What does this all mean?

Our story, is a slightly similar example of the stories featured in the article. The exception is that we, or at least I feel, got a decent deal. We ended up on the lucky side.

The people Brill profiles were taken advantage of and ended up dealing with a lot of misery they could have avoided completely. Yes, some were completely uninsured and took that risk. But others were insured and had limits to their payouts — something that was either confusing or not fully clear when they signed up through their employers.

The good news is that until, now — the publication of the Time article — it meant that very few people, knew about the full extent of hospital billing and how little they’d actually accept for payment.

Furthermore, the publication of an expose, if you want to call it that, like this will undoubtedly do two things.

First, it will allow patients who don’t have insurance or have coverage caps and are stuck with huge bills to negotiate — knowing that they can (a positive.)

Second, it will put the hospitals on guard for this behavior. So that either means they’ll tighten up their negotiating guidelines (a negative) or they’ll lower their absurd prices (a positive.)

What happens because of it is yet to be seen, but our personal experience while it seemed somewhat shocking and fortuitous at first, appears much more commonplace.

Ultimately, your (and my) responsibility is to share this hard hitting article with just about everyone you know. (Not my article, but the one from Time!) You can do so by visiting their site (here) and liking it on Facebook or emailing it around to friends. I truly think it’s that important for others to know what is going on and hopefully start the conversation that will put this outrageous billing to an end.

I’m all for capitalism, but only with fair pricing.

Almost all businesses require a markup to make money and make a difference in the world, so I don’t think hospitals should give their services away for free. But I think the health care industry needs to be checked with either a universal markup key or a cap on percentages at which a service or product can be sold — particularly if they’re operating under non-profit status — and I imagine this would have to be instituted through public policy, which some of you oppose and others embrace.

Regardless, something needs to change. We’re not dealing with fancy cars, 10,000 square foot houses or other expendable items that have little ethical pricing structure consideration. This is an issue that requires examination of some deep and possibly unanswerable questions. One of them is this: how much can you charge to save a human life without being greedy?

Just because someone would pay millions of dollars to keep their loved one healthy doesn’t mean they should have to.

Your question of the day: What do you think about the medical billing process? Have a story like this?

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Adam says:

    Didn’t your insurance company negotiate at the start? They certainly shouldn’t want your deductible eaten up by exorbitantly overpriced fees because it means they have to start footing the bill sooner. Anyways, that is what my insurance company does with my high deductible plan.

  2. Kathy Long says:

    We had an experience a few years ago with my then 14 year old daughter. She had tremendous pain which I was concerned may be associated with her appendix. My husband was out of work and we had no insurance. I carried her to the emergency room who proceded to do bloodwork and urinalysis. The doctor came in and said everything looked fine but she needed a cat scan “just to be sure”. I reminded him of our financial situation and asked if there weren’t some other way ‘to make sure’ and he said no. When the scan showed everything to be fine (of course!) the doctor left. I asked the nurse if this happened again what should I look for and she said there should be fever (there wasn’t) and something would show up in the urine and bloodwork! I was fuming but kept my mouth shut and left.
    When the bill came we were shocked. It was for $5000 dollars and they still hadn’t told us her source of pain! After it had been determined not to be her appendix, they were uninterested in looking any further. We approached the adminitrator, told him our story and was told that’s just the way it is, we are responsible for the entire bill. I felt like it should have been discounted considering we had no insurance, no job and felt the test was unecessary. They said ‘no way’. They wanted their money. So they got it, $100 a month over the course of the next few years. I absolutely HATE the medical system in this country. As long as there are so many sitting in their ivory towers raking in the money, it won’t ever change. It is all about the money and avoiding lawsuits, not our health.

    • Jennifer says:

      it’s horrible to me that they do not provide a service…you should have options and they just tell you “this is our protocol”. Well, your protocol sucks, it’s not about us, it’s about making $$$. I’m footing the bill and I expect to be consulted when I engage someone to do business with me. They’ve completely moved beyond that idea into some dictatorial state! Hate it too!

  3. Lynn says:

    The insurance company negotiates only the portion of the bill they have to pay, strictly in their behalf, never yours, Adam.

    I read this article a few days ago and was nauseated, even though I was fully and painfully aware of the situation already. I will be paying off medical bills for the foreseeable future, having fallen and broken my foot a few years ago years, and having serious complications with that. The most serious one being not having insurance (hard to swing on $15,000/year, employer didn’t provide). In years when we had insurance and never had to use Drs. and hospitals, I was complacent. Aren’t most of us?

    The anecdotal reference in the article about the man who was paying pennies-literally $.21 and other odd fractions of a dollar for treatment because of his Medicare and supplemental coverage points out how the system exacerbates the problem of access-too much for some, none for others. Until it gets up close and personal for the majority and there is an Occupy Medicine, how much hope is there for change?

    Glad it worked out pretty well for you, Kevin. What’s not to love about a beautiful healthy baby no matter the price?

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the valuable info. We just have the high deductible coverage too. I was aware of the outrageous pricing but not the possibility to get those prices negotiated down. Wish we would have known when my husband broke his leg playing soccer a few years back…

    • Jennifer says:

      Also, I really thought the constant X-ray taking was WAY over the top. Is it really necessary to take that many X-rays for one broken bone?? It was like every couple weeks!

  5. We had our children (6) over fifty years ago. Each $200.00 a three day hospital stay including the doctor. The good old days.

  6. Michelle says:

    SO crazy you’ve written this article. I was talking to my brother the other day who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and must take a medicine (injection) once a month. The injection costs $4,000 every month. He’s been fortunate as he works for a large company to have this paid by his insurance. Well, his insurance plan has been changed/downgraded and now has a $5,000 deductible for his meds. It’s February and he had NOT taken his injection for 2 months…went to the doctor, she asked why, said he couldn’t afford it right now. The Doctor gave him a number to call the Drug Company…they told him, they would PAY HIS DEDUCTIBLE IN FULL….why, of course, they get $48,000 a year having him as their “client”!! NUTS!! I haven’t read the article yet, but certainly will! Thank you Kevin!

  7. Geoff says:

    Hi Kevin, I also was hospitalized for three days and my bill was 80,000. After my insurance paid the covered amount I still owed 8000.00. I tried to negotiate with the hospital and they offered no discounts but would take monthly payments. I hired Health Advocates which I found online. You pay them upfront 500. to get you a discount. I was a bit apprehensive as they wanted the 500. without promising any results even though they had lots of good press and testimonials. I paid and they called me a few days later and said if I paid the bill right away I could pay 4000. and my acct was closed and paid in full. I did it and all is well. I don’t have any connections with this company but highly recommend them if any of your readers also don’t have any luck doing it on there own. Also my ambulance wouldn’t negotiate either and was ridiculously expensive. Seems strange as it was also the local fire dept which we already pay for with our taxes…

  8. Nikki G says:

    What happened to the days when a doctor really cared- they used to come to your house if you needed them. Now they have set themselves up like gods. And money is the only thing that matters anymore. I do not think that government taking over and forcing all to have insurance is the answer either! That’s just more control and really poor service. What a mess it has all become! We have just got to be pro-active about our health and that is really a challenge with all the additives, chemicals, yada yada, rant rant.

  9. Deborah says:

    This is so interesting. I went to a naturopath last November. I checked the website to see if they accepted my insurance and only one doc in the practice said they did, but she wasn’t accepting new patients. I called and explained and asked if perhaps there was someone else that took my insurance and maybe their website hadn’t been updated. I was told that another doc was “able to bill under the first doc’s name” and get visits covered by my insurance. Oh-kaaaay. Interesting, but okay. I saw that their appointments were charged between $180 and $265.

    I saw the doc. She was nice. She prescribed antibiotics. So much for “natural” healthcare. But whatever.

    A few weeks I received a bill for $265. Apparently my insurance plan doesn’t cover naturopathic care. I was totally surprised because in my state, it’s law that insurance companies cover naturopaths as they do regular docs. BUT this does not apply if you have a self-insured plan, which I do through my husband.

    So I called and explained the problem to the billing person. She was so nice and compassionate. I asked if they could extend a cash pay discount to me. I thought I’d done my due diligence with them about the coverage, and I was unaware of my insurance’s policy. And that I should have called to check with them – and that frankly, the doctor’s office should have told me to call my insurance company and check, but they didn’t. Mistake, mistake. Let’s help each other.

    I received an email from the doctor that sorry, there’s nothing she could do to help me. Pay the $265 and that she’s contracted with the insurance company (which she is not) to code procedures a certain way and cannot discount the amounts.

    In reality, contracted providers are required to accept whatever the contracted rate is for their procedures and those rates are always significantly less than the original amount. Secondly, this doctor is NOT contracted with my insurance company, so she could charge me $10 or nothing for that matter.

    I politely pointed that out to her – 1) she was billing under someone else’s name (fishy) and 2) since there’s no insurance, she could charge whatever she wanted.

    In response I received an extremely apologetic letter from the clinic owner who assured me that she oversees this particular doctor’s care (justifying how she can bill under her name) and that she’s sorry for my trouble and that the contracted rate with the insurance company is $180 for the $265 visit I was billed for and for my troubles, she’d like to further discount it and in the end I paid $170. Almost a full $100 less than the original bill.

    It’s a shame that I had to spend so much time and energy resolving this. And a shame that doctors have to do a lot of dancing around to get paid. And that our system is so complex. And lucky that I knew enough about how insurance works that I could politely fight back and not go broke after seeing a doctor for an hour who just prescribed me the same pills my regular GP did.

    Don’t give up people. Keep pushing, politely, and we can make a difference.

  10. Bottom line, and I was talking with my son about this today – try not to end up in the hospital, or anywhere near the doctors.

    Besides charging a lot of money for a cruel or no treatment, the food is absolute poison as well.

    I came from the Ukraine 33 years, ago and can’t say that the medical personnel was any kinder there than here.

    Though, it is much cheaper to fly oversees for a serious procedure, than do it here.

    Hospital bills are just a never ending nightmare!

    Try to stay healthy!

    Thank you for the info, Kevin!

  11. mtnplanner says:

    A few years ago my BIL had a sudden heart attack resulting in a 4-way bypass. Their uninsured medical bill was about $100,000. With a little online research we turned up the fact that most (but not all) hospitals will negotiate if you ask, and ask again.

    The hospital in this case agreed to settle for the amount (in cash) that they would have received from Medicare which was around $30,000. My inlaws fortunately had such a sum in their retirement savings and were able to pay it off. Still, if they had not learned that they could in fact negotiate, and found data on what the hospital would ordinarily charge Medicare, they would have been wiped out financially.

    So… it pays to at least attempt to negotiate if you are currently uninsured. A good resources for ideas on that is:

    Hopefully, this appalling situation of families and individuals facing bankruptcy due to medical catastrophes will become a thing of the past after the Health Care law is fully implemented. I am not a fan of the Affordable Care Law, but if it can stem the tide of this kind of medical profiteering, then that would be a plus.

  12. Jan Adam says:

    I recently experienced a problem with the local hospital. I was told by my doctor that I needed a endoscope for acid reflux. I have insurance with a $5000. deductible because I also am healthy and would rather save some money on premiums because we can’t afford anything else. I called the hospital to see how much it would cost. I told them I had insurance and they said it would cost $8000. which I would have to pay the $5000. for the deductible. We hung up and then called back and asked how much for the procedure without insurance. We were told it would be $1500.
    So it goes to show you the insured pays for the uninsured and being retired we can’t afford it and we are tired of supporting people who go to the hospital for the flu or colds and they have to treat them and we pay.

    It’s time for the working people to speak up for their rights.

  13. barbara says:

    Insurance companies pay other companies to go over medical bills from doctors and hospitals. A friend designed softwear just for that purpose. All want to save money including John Q Patient. Agreed bills are padded everywhere. I am on medicare now, I pay out for insurance I do not use. I see my GP once a year. She tells me if everyone in my age group was as healthy as me she’d have not very many patients. It pays to eat well and exercise; be blessed with good genes.
    But I have seen the bills that are submitted to Medicare and they seem high. I feel people should not have to have medical debt. The Gov’t and the AMA need to get their charges under control and price things fairly.

  14. Public institutions today are revolving conveyors of money. We are supposed to be provided ‘a service’ for dumping some of our ‘hard earned’ cash on the conveyor. Problem is the business-minded ‘service providers’ are too busy collecting the ‘cash on the conveyor’ to provide the services the cash is supposed to be paying for. These people are quite clearly nothing but cheats and criminals who have no moral fibre and are definitely “going the right way for a smacked bottom” by adding to society’s woes and making their own lives meaningless ‘to boot’.

    The proverbial ‘Lemming Cliff’ of society is not so far off but don’t worry “you’re not supposed to feel a thing”.

    God help us All.
    Oh, hang on, I’m a pagan ……we have to help ourselves, ourselves.

    Warmest Regards,


  15. There is a huge threat to the ‘evil global pharmaceutical empire’ at long last ….and it’s shit. What’s worse is it’s other people’s shit too.

    It’s of course, very difficult to find all the suppressed facts on this extremely important health ditto but I’ll attempt to explain the rudiments of the story.

    As some people might not know, as a human body we have around 100 trillion living cells but over 90% are NOT our DNA, they mostly are the living diversity of flora in our gut. Without these microscopic friends our own personal ecosystem would be ‘pushing up the daisies’. Everything we eat and drink is processed by these little beauties into the replenishment of nutrients for a healthy body.

    The diversity of species of gut flora is so important because different bacteria process different foods into a variety of minerals, vitamins, enzymes, sugars, etc for our body’s use. All the processed food with unhealthy additives, over-prescribed medicines, sugar-dosed drinks, smoking, alcohol and the like are destroying the diversity of our ‘Garden of Eden’ within and we are all becoming sicker. Sounds like another conspiracy theory?

    In veterinary circles, for hundreds of years, it is a well known fact that a sickly cow or sheep in a herd is easily fixed by removing some of the cud from a healthy animal’s mouth and putting it into the sickly animal’s mouth. Within 24 hours or less, that animal is ‘right as rain’ and happily munching away with the rest of the herd. Why? Because it’s had a ‘flora transplant’ and it’s body can now resume replenishment of the necessary nutrients for body homeostasis. Also, because it’s living bacteria, it’s a VERY FAST and effective method.

    The ABC’s medical reporter Norman Swan MD has recently reported on a dying woman who was so full of a variety of anti-biotics that she was rotting to death from multiple infections and the best doctors with the latest technology could do nothing to save her. In desperation, the veterinary boys were called in.

    Suffice it to say that woman was sitting up in bed having breakfast the following morning and is in the best of health today. Her healthy husband had provided her with a ‘Poo Transplant’

    This gets out and the ‘Pharmaceutical Boys’ are going to be in a lot of financial strife as will the ‘healthcare institutions’.

    We don’t need them. Our ‘body’ trully is our ‘temple’ and that temple is full of an ‘army of ants’, a diversity of friendly bacteria, that do the ‘healthcare job’ perfectly.

    We only need to understand how these little guys live and avoid what kills them because what kills them WILL eventually kill US!

    Warmest Regards,

  16. Dee Sund says:

    I had a somewhat different situation. My late husband had a severe heart problem, and all the more so after having a cardiac bypass. The ability of his heart to pump was at 30%, verified by an echocardiogram. After surgery it was 17% he was going into Atrial fibrilation frequently. I would take him to the hospital and he would be given electroshock to bring his heart rate back to normal. Three times I called Medicare to protest additional billing for ICU, which didn’t happen. On one of these times, when he got to Emergency there wasn’t a cardiologist available so they sent him by ambulance to a hospital in another city. He had been in the first hospital for about 20 minutes total, and sure enough they billed for ICU. Medicare did not contact me after I reported it, neither the first time or the next two times. I get letters that ask people to report possible fraud, but apparently it’s just a formality. They keep saying that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are running out of money and fraud is rampant, but I gave up on reporting as it did no good. Dee Sund

  17. Wow. I spent six weeks in hospital due to an RTA some years ago. Treatment included a large skin graft. Total cost? About $25 for the ambulance. Why? Cos we all pay a little bit into the system every week. It works. We’ve had this system for 60-ish years. Where do I live? Cuba? Russia? Er, no. Britain. Here, everyone shakes their head in disbelief at your system. Our system, though imperfect, does remove one of the major uncertainties in life and allows us to get on with life.

  18. Linda says:

    That’s not a bill in the photo. It’s a passbook for a savings account. Not sure why all the pills, though the balance looks pretty low.

  19. lynn says:

    Thank you for writing your hospital story.
    Congratulations on the birth of your son.
    Actually I have been talking about the abuses of hospital accounting for years.
    My report “Sticker Shock” can be seen at my Facebook page CPAs for Universal Single Payer Health Care.
    As a CPA I have done intensive investigation into hospital abuses where they jamb the poor, un and under insured with outrageous hospital bills. Often people do not have choices such as yours where they can decide not to have insurance. They may be turned down due to preexisting conditions or be given quotes as much as 60% of their disposable income.
    This country need universal coverage like at least 30 other industrialized nations.

    Questions for you:
    Was the hospital you visited a nonprofit?
    Do you know how, much the hospital pays its top executives?
    How about connected consultants?
    Bonuses for selected administration and “special deferred compensation plans” to CEOs and others?

    Time magazine only touched the surface of the outright discrimination, deceit, and abuse of hospitals in this country.
    Frankly it is disgusting.
    Lynn Petrovich, CPA

  20. lynn says:

    Ok I am back.
    Kevin did not say what hospital his wife gave birth in but he did say Berkeley.
    There is a Sutter East Bay Hospital which is a nonprofit entity, part of a conglomerate of nonprofits in Berkeley CA.
    The hospital, while paying NO sales, income, or property taxes (i.e. subsidized by we the taxpayers) pulled in $1.3 billion in revenue in 2011 according to their IRS filed Form 990.
    They had net income of $84 million (previous year net income $143 million), net surplus of almost $400 million ($300 million in securities).
    They paid the top guy over $3 million.
    Next person received over $1 million.
    Average salary of rank and file employees is $52,000.
    Severance paid to 3 people was in excess of $1 million.
    Of their expenses, $60 million was costed to “Other” (very non descript).
    Obviously the hospital is doing very well while they hound the poor, un and under insured for puffed up hospital bills (think discrimination) going so far as to expose those needing health care to aggressive collection techniques, harassment, wage garnishment or prison.
    And they are a charity!
    Again, this is disgusting.

  21. Lilija says:

    WOW, I am just shocked.. I am not from U.S., so I wasn’t aware of the situation there. Well, I had heard, of course, that it’s pretty unfortunate to get sick in U.S., but this sounds just unimaginably cruel.
    I am from Latvia, EU. Last summer I was lightly bitten by a dog (just a scratch, but still there was some blood). As it was in countryside and I couldn’t be 100% sure the dog was vaccinated, I decided to go to hospital to get all the shots against rabies. After all the shots I had to stay overnight in hospital just to be sure there is no adverse reactions. So I had all the shots, a bed in hospital, breakfast and all needed care – and the next day when I was released I was happily surprised I didn’t have to pay anything at all. And I don’t have any insurance, nor am I in any special patience group. Of course, one can say that the physical conditions of hospital facilities are not the best, the breakfast wasn’t very health promoting, but the most essential things are provided.
    It seems like something has gone terribly wrong with the priorities in the health care system in U.S…

  22. Lauri says:

    I’m pretty sure the image is in Chinese. At least, I recognize a couple of the characters, and I don’t see any Japanese kana in it.

    So, when did medical profits become more important than a citizen’s right to life? Just curious…

    When we take a piece of equipment in for repair, the technicians don’t charge per test. One fee is charged to cover any and all tests required until the problem is found (then we get an estimate for fixing it). Some companies even do complimentary diagnosis (knowing they’ll make money on the repair costs). Why are hospitals not run the same way? One charge for all necessary tests until the problem is found. Better yet, how about they don’t get paid until the problem is found and cured? If we need to spend that much money, we need results to justify that much expense. Just a thought…

  23. RB says:

    I have epilepsy but I have been seizure free w/ my current med. for the past 2 years. Before that I had a few hospital experiences and the system is pretty disgusting. I would not go to a hospital under my own accord because there’s nothing they really can do except saddle me w/ a huge bill – unfortunately, I’m unconscious after a seizure so some concerned bystander usually calls 911. Incidentally the last episode I was w/ a family member and when the paramedics came he said he actually got into an argument w/ them saying it was completely unnecessary to take me to the hospital but they insisted – they were following protocol & probably feared possible lawsuits. While, I was at the hospital (for about 4 hrs) they administered unnecessary tests and insisted on administering procedures that they said were mandatory for some one having a seizure. I was pretty out of it, not thinking clearly so I couldn’t really stand up for myself. After the episode, I checked w/ my neurologist and he confirmed that the stuff they administered was completely unnecessary. I also knew a former er nurse who had worked at that hospital for 15 years and she told me they administer the same few protocols to every single person that comes thru the er no matter their condition to basically rack up the bill. It took me a year to pay off that bill ( & I had insurance) – oh, & they gave me a discount of a “whole” $99. On a plus side, the ambulance was sent by the city and after I wrote them a letter asking if they could reduce the $900 ambulance bill they waived the whole thing!

    I am now uninsured because my insurance company raised my rates 55% & I could no longer afford it. Because I have a “pre- existing” condition it’s extremely expensive for me to get even basic coverage – mind you outside an occasional seizure I’m an extremely healthy person.

    The medical system in this country is extremely screwed up. I believe the number one reason for declaring bankruptcy in the US is due to medical bills. As a country we pay more healthcare per person than any other western country yet we’re the ONLY one who does not offer basic medical care to all of it’s citizens.

  24. Angela says:

    Kevin I have been a RN for close to 30 years now, and have continued to research illness, and have known that there must be much more between the lines of wellness to illness and how our society “treats” with pills and surgery as the main options. I would often have an anxious patient take so long to recover partly because of worrying about how they were going to pay the bill. They would ask me questions I couldn’t answer and of course my pat answer, as I was instructed to say, was to confer with the billing office to work out something. I have been healthy, and many years ago had an “elective” hysterectomy at the urging of my MD that I now regret because of the hormonal issues I deal with as a result. But I remember looking at the bill and a MD was listed present in the surgical suite that I was unaware of. I asked my surgeon about it and he replied, “Oh, he is my office partner, and was there to assist.”…at a tune of $5,000.00!!! There to “assist’. I know the “assistants” are usually scrub nurses, circulating nurses, and Surgical Assistants specifically trained to assist. My insurance at the time paid for everything. So I am regretfully partially to blame for remaining silent. Those days are long gone! Although I am healthy through diet and exercise, I recently was in a situation of severe dehydration for 2 days at a work site, here in the Arizona desert, and came down with excruciating left side pain that would not go away, and came in waves, (Dehydration can contribute to renal stones) then projectile vomiting that would not stop. I have no insurance. I drove myself to the hospital ER. I was there from 1am to 8am. During that time I received 1 bag of saline, (they charged me for 2 bags), a CT scan to rule out renal stones, IV push morphine x1, demerol x 2, zofran x1, phenergan x 1. Lab draw for CBC, CMP, and urinalysis. The rest of the time I lay alone writhing in pain, dozing from time to time and the doctor came in once literally for not even 2 minutes. The bill came to $6,930.00! The thing that blew my mind was the charge for the IV push drugs…not the medicine but the actual injecting the medicine into the IV site….$246.34 per injection!!! As an RN I have administered MANY IV push meds. The protocol for some meds is to inject slowly, most of those are ‘pushed’ over 5 minutes. I had 5 IV push meds; the most expensive med was $8.25. The total for ‘pushing’ 5 meds was $1231.70!!! I was incredulous! If I had known what I was about to pay I would have “pushed’ the meds myself! I plan to contest and when my bill is down to $1231.70, I plan to refuse to pay the remaining, and site the reason above. People need to stop laying down and being docile ‘sheeple’ and stand up for what is right. Threatening my credit score won’t work either. Credit scores are another scam story for later…;-)

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