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ER Overcharges “Sickening”

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Gadsden, ALOne Sunday last summer Kandi thought she had a urinary tract infection (UTI). Because she doesn’t have health insurance, Kandi - who works for a physician - at first treated herself with Cipro, a strong antibiotic. But it got to the point where she wound up in the local hospital’s ER. Kandi made a quick recovery “but emergency room overcharges just made me sicker,” she says.

“My husband drove me to ER and called the doctor I work for - I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to work the next day,” says Kandi. “No sooner was I triaged and put in an examining room when my doctor [her employer] came in.” He knew Kandi didn’t have insurance so he instructed the nurse practitioner to just do some blood work, start an IV with Levaquin and an injection for pain and nausea. No costly x-rays were necessary.

“About three hours later I was sent home with meds for nausea and a prescription for more Cipro,” Kandi explains. “I took a few days off work and finished the course of antibiotics. Then the hospital started calling…”

Kandi told them she didn’t have insurance but was willing to work out a payment plan. The hospital administrator suggested that Kandi apply for their charity program; she just had to download the documentation from the website, sign and mail it. She also asked Kandi if she could come up with some cash “up front,” but Kandi could only spare $200.

“I called the hospital twice, asking if they had received the paperwork, but I didn’t get a reply,” Kandi explains.
“Two weeks later I got a bill from ER for over $10,000! And I got another bill from the Doctors’ Group for more than $500.

“I called the Doctors Group first and asked how they could bill me when I only saw my doctor. They said the nurse carried out his orders and they would be willing to cut the fee in half if I sent a letter stating what happened. They wouldn’t reduce the bill any further.

“As for the $10,000, that is absolutely outrageous! I was put in a nasty old ER room and had to walk down the hall to a filthy bathroom. My doctor said the bill was ridiculous. I demanded a copy of detailed charges and then did some research.”

Kandi found out that Blue Cross pays $700 total for the treatment she had. The hospital refused to discuss how they could justify the other $9,300. She decided to send three payments of $5 each until she got all the documentation together. For instance, they charged Kandi $300 for the IV Levaquin but sent her doctor the cost of the antibiotics, which totaled $9. That is quite a markup.

“The last letter I received from the hospital said that if I didn’t sign their financial agreement demanding full payment it would be turned over to a collection agency.” Kandi adds. “I never heard another word about the charity after I called them on these codes and charges. Not only did they want me to pay $10,000, there was a clause in that agreement saying their company could sign loan agreements and access my bank account without my permission if I signed their agreement.

“My doctor, who happens to work at the hospital on a regular basis, said I need to fight with them. I talked to a few attorneys in town but they can’t help. I think they are afraid of the repercussions because Gadsden is a small town.

“We don’t make a lot of money and I know I should have insurance but it would cost $500 per month and I can’t afford it. These emergency room charges just make me sick. Our doctor works hard and takes a cut in pay so people can afford treatment. Why can’t the hospital be reasonable?”


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