Time Study Finds Some Hospitals Bill Patients Many Times More Than Actual Procedure Cost
When Emilia Gilbert fell and went to the emergency room, she was diagnosed with a simple broken nose and released. But a few weeks later, she got the bill and was floored again.
"I knew I would have to pay something, but I didn't think it was going to be $9,000," Gilbert said.
Gilbert's $9,418 bill included a $6,538 charge for three CT scans that the government says should actually cost the hospital only about $800 for all three under Medicare rates.
A Time magazine study found non-profit hospitals routinely bill many patients many times more than what a procedure costs the hospital. In one case, a hospital charged a 10,000 percent markup for a single over-the-counter pain pill.
Time contributor Steven Brill's seven-month investigation unveiled the "Chargemaster," an internal list of what hospitals charge patients.
"It's a price list that is completely happenstance," he said. "Nobody can explain it."
For example, one hospital charged a patient $157 for a blood test that it bills Medicare just $11 for. Another patient was charged $7,997 for a stress test that Medicare pays about $554 for.
"Everybody's making exorbitant profits," Brill said.
The American Hospital Association said a bill reflects not just the patient's treatment but also "what it takes to provide the care - the nurse at the bedside and all the staff who keep the hospital running 24 hours a day."
Brill said what most people don't know is that they can usually negotiate their bills down so they don't pay the price Emilia Gilbert paid.