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Michigan Patient Billed Over $1,000 for Sitting in the Waiting Room

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Judy Burton went to her local emergency room after experiencing pains. With a fresh wristband, she was sent to the waiting room. After the pains went away on their own she simply went home, without receiving treatment. The hospital sent her a bill anyway…

Grand Rapids, MIJudy Burton did what most people do when they begin suffering unexplained pains while at home on a Saturday evening: she proceeded to the nearest emergency room to get checked out. The Michigan resident told FOX 17 News (11/17/17) that she wound up not requiring treatment after her pains subsided and after about an hour simply left the waiting room and went home. Imagine her surprise when she received a bill about 2 weeks later for over $1,000 in emergency room charges.

It appears she was triaged to some degree. "She put a little band around my wrist," Burton told FOX 17, referring to a member of the facility staff who affixed the hospital band to her wrist.

A bill for basically taking up a chair…

However, Burton claims to have received no other treatment. And she was charged $1,059.06.

Burton went on to say that her secondary reaction, following the initial shock, was that the hospital must have committed some kind of administrative error by billing her for the cost of a complete emergency room checkup when, in fact she never saw anyone.

But that wasn't necessarily the hospital's position…

When Burton called the hospital to discuss the error, she was told that it wasn't an error at all but a legitimate bill for treatment - for which they offered a convenient payment plan.

Burton's response? "I'm not paying it.

"I never saw a nurse or a doctor, no vital [signs] were taken…

"I sat in your chair," she claims to have told them.

So Burton launched a dispute of her medical bill. The hospital responded with another phone call indicating that if she failed to pay the bill, her account would be turned over to the collections department.

An advocate for consumers stuck with outrageous emergency room cost always advises clients to demand an itemized bill, rather than a summarized document. And it is those itemized invoices, says Pat Palmer of, where the tale is really told. Palmer told FOX 17 that she has seen $11 charged for a single tissue, and $50 charged for a pair of latex gloves.

The new normal

Hospital overcharges and higher emergency room cost has risen to epidemic proportions in recent years as hospitals attempt to fund their operations on the backs of those who can afford to pay - through insurance, or otherwise. For the poor, who have neither insurance or means of any kind to pay, hospitals continue to provide a basic level of treatment as part of the medical Hippocratic oath.

But there's a cost to that - and the solution appears to be dinging health insurance plans or patients possessing the financial means with grossly inflated fees in order to balance the books. To complicate matters even further, the trend to contract out emergency room services to third parties translates to confusion when it comes time to determine whether, or not a caregiver or facility falls within a patient's approved health network.

While the hospital itself might be, those working in the emergency room may not. Thus, a patient who assumes the care provided will be covered by their health plan is rightfully shocked when presented with a whopping bill for emergency room treatment which falls outside their approved network for insurance purposes.

FOX 17 calls this the 'new normal,' and reports that a visit to the emergency room usually begins with a $400 'facility fee.' A 'doctor's fee' will add anywhere from $200, to $1,000 to that total. X-Ray and lab fees can add yet another $400 to that, bringing a worst-case scenario to $1,800.

In the end, they sent her some flowers and reduced her bill…

In contrast, Burton appears to have escaped with a bill valued at just over $1,000. But she says she didn't see anyone, save for the individual who put the hospital band around her wrist and invited her to cool her heels in the waiting room with some magazines until a health care professional was available to assess, and treat her.

After the Michigan TV station reached out to the hospital involved, Burton received an apology from the hospital complete with a small bouquet of flowers as a gesture of good will.

They also reduced her bill. There was no mention in the news report as to what level the ER bill was reduced, or by what percentage. The hospital was not identified.


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