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Discrepancies in Emergency Room Overcharges Cause Frustration and Financial Woes

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Discrepancies in Emergency Room overcharges result in even more frustration and financial difficulties.

Scottsdale, AZ Emergency room care in the US is the highest-priced care a patient can receive. Even a minor condition can set you back thousands of dollars, which in itself can cause health issues—financial problems are stressful. It can get worse: one patient dinged with outrageous emergency room overcharges later discovered that another patient with similar treatment paid a lot less.

Jeffrey Stephens, a fabricator and mechanic who lives in a school bus recently made headlines when he disputed emergency room charges and legal fees by protesting at a highway intersection: he was charged nearly $3,000 to remove an object in his eye. Here is the kicker: Nick Carico went to the same ER with a similar problem--dust in his eye scratched his cornea and caused severe pain—but a hospital employee advised that he go to an Urgent Care clinic. His bill was $150.

Stephens was charged the following:

• $741.10 by the hospital and $418 by the independent physician’s group contracted to the hospital for removing the object from his eye. He describes the practice as double billing.

• $800 for use of the ER and $260 to remove material from his eye.

• Medications including $186.47 for a topical anesthetic, $83.60 for an antibiotic and $128.78 for six pain pills. (The same medications from Walmart totaled $84.)

A collection company took Stephens to court for non-payment. The Journal reported that Stephens was ordered to pay $2,191 to cover his doctor’s bill, eight percent in interest and $1,575 to cover the opposing attorney’s fees. The judgment sent him into a “mini meltdown.”

Stephens case is all too familiar. Robin in Scottsdale told LawyersandSettlements that he went to ER after cutting his finger on a saw. Robin’s bill was $1,100, including $900 for a suture kit. Not having medical insurance, he asked for a payment schedule, talked to financial services and was told he qualified for a 40 percent hardship discount.

“I have submitted payments monthly and twice a month when I had extra money-- as agreed-- but I received a notice from a collection agency in November,” says Robin. “They told me they would not honor the discount, but to keep making payments to the hospital and I would not get a negative credit rating. My credit score fell 37 points in January. I have never ever had a late payment or other derogatory information on my credit report. I left messages and no one would return my calls.”

Bridget has several chronic illnesses and says she has been treated in emergency room more times than she can remember. “I've fought over and over again to have charges deleted from my account because I never had the services listed on the bill,” she says. “One bill is for an ER visit of 23 hours. My blood pressure was extremely high, resulting in heart palpitations. I was given IV fluids, IV blood pressure medicine and a couple of pain medications. The ER bill alone was over $100,000! Since I've been chronically ill, I'm very well versed on what I'm given and why. However, there were so many more things included on my bill that had nothing to do with any treatment I was given, whatsoever.”

Similar stories have recently made news. A family was charged $18,000 for a nap and a bottle of baby formula after taking their 8-month-old son to ER when he hit his head. And a woman was charged $6,000 for an ice pack and a bandage when she ended up in the ER after she fainted and cut her ear during the fall.

Nearly one-third of insured Americans learn after the fact that their health plan doesn’t pay as much for a hospital visit as expected, according to Consumer Reports.

Past-due medical bills are the reason 59 percent of Americans are contacted by a debt collector and 16 percent of Americans’ credit reports include medical debt— about $81 billion total. (Medical debt is defined as “unpaid medical bills in collections," while medical collections means "outstanding bills that have been reported to a nationwide credit reporting agency as a collection.")

DeAnn Friedholm, Director of Health Reform for Consumers Union and part of Consumer Reports says that “Avoiding these types of charges can be difficult enough for a planned procedure, let alone in an emergency treatment situation. That’s why Consumers Union is pushing for state laws that will help consumers resolve and avoid surprise medical bills.”

And Jeffrey Stephens is creating awareness by protesting his emergency room overcharges.

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