Arizona Hospital's $80,000 Bill Stings Worse Than Scorpion Venom

An Arizona woman gets anti-venom for a scorpion sting, leaves with $80,000 bill.

ByABC News
September 5, 2012, 5:36 PM

Sept. 6, 2012— -- An Arizona woman was shocked when her brush with a scorpion led to a stinging $83,046 hospital bill.

Marcie Edmonds, 52, called the poison control center an hour after a bark scorpion stung her in the stomach while she was opening a box of air conditioner filters. She experienced mild tingling, throat tightness, darting eyes, muscle spams, and difficulty breathing, confirmed.

As a typical illness from the venom progresses from numbness and tingling to uncontrolled muscle movements, it can resemble a seizure, aid Dr. Steven Curry, the Director of Medical Toxicology at the Banner Good Samaratin Medical Center. The muscle spasms spread to the chest and cause respiratory problems, which can be life-threatening – especially in children, Curry said.

The poison control center advised Edmonds to go to a hospital, so she went to Chandler Regional Medical Center, where doctors administered two vials of a relatively new anti-venom called Anascorp, which was approved by the Federal Drug Administration last August and is distributed to hospitals for about $3,800 per vial, toxicologists say.

Edmonds left the hospital after a three hour stay, but the bill that arrived several weeks later came out to $83,046, or $39,652 per Anascorp vial, confirmed. That's about 10 times what the hospital paid for each vial.

"Everyone I talk to says, 'You've got to be kidding,' " Edmonds said to the Arizona Republic.

Chandler Regional Medical Center released a statement apologizing for Edmond's treatment costs, explaining that they are working to adjust the high "out-of-network" bill she received for the anti-venom.

"In addition, we are also currently reviewing our pricing of this expensive specialty medication," the statement said.

Anascorp had been administered for free to about 2,000 scorpion sting patients during a 10-year clinical trial in the United States before to last year, said Dr. Keith Boesen, the director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center.

The drug is made from horse antibodies and comes from Mexico, where it costs about $100 per dose, according to Kaiser Health News. Boesen explained that this is because about 10,000 people are treated with the drug there each year, bringing down costs.

In the United States, however, there is only one scorpion that has the potential to be lethal in humans: the bark scorpion. And it's mostly found in Arizona and its neighboring states. The number of people treated with Anascorp each year is much smaller in the U.S.

"It's only given to 200 people," he said, explaining that the small number of drug recipients have to share the costs of the lengthy clinical trial.

So far this year, the Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center, which handles poison control for Phoenix, has had 5,414 calls for scorpion stings. No deaths have been reported in more than three years, according to Good Samaritan spokeswoman Rebecca Armendariz.

Although Edmonds' experience was scary, toxicologists are most worried about children under 6 years old. The smaller or younger a child is, the more likely it is that the venom will have a life-threatening effect on that child because the scorpion releases the same amount of venom regardless of its target's body mass.

"A scorpion sting that would just affect my leg would affect an entire child's body," Boesen said.

It's those children that are most often prescribed the expensive anti-venom because it's often cheaper than spending two days in the intensive care unit on a ventilator, which is often the alternative, said Dr. Richard Clark, who directs the toxicology department at the University of California San Diego.

"The only way to justify spending that on an anti-venom is that 99 percent of the time it costs less than a day in the ICU," he said.