The $9.2 Million Hospital Bill

July 29, 2011
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When I lived in Hong Kong years ago I used to read about crazy stories happening in places like the Phillipines, where a woman supposedly gave birth to a fish. Hundreds of people came to see the miracle/freak show and it made for some light entertainment around the region. We don’t have a lot of stories like that in the US, but we do have some equally outlandish medical billing tales.

When I lived in Hong Kong years ago I used to read about crazy stories happening in places like the Phillipines, where a woman supposedly gave birth to a fish. Hundreds of people came to see the miracle/freak show and it made for some light entertainment around the region. We don’t have a lot of stories like that in the US, but we do have some equally outlandish medical billing tales. Here’s one from FierceHealthcare about a woman whose estate received a $9.2 million bill from a hospital in Tampa, FL. The patient had progressive dmyelinating neuropathy and passed away a couple years ago.

The patient’s mother Holly Bennett accused the hospital of not feeding her daughter and giving her too much morphine, which, she claimed, resulted in the patient’s weight falling to 37 pounds..

The hospital is suing the patient’s estate for the outstanding bill.

“If they think they’re getting money from me, they’re crazy,” Bennett said in the article. “Who’s ever even heard of a bill that high?”

Although the hospital charges will likely drop to $2.25 million after readjustments, Bennett told ABC News she would not pay the multimillion-dollar bill. She said that she never received an itemized bill during the five years of treatment and that the lawsuit is a strategy to prevent her from filing her own lawsuit for medical malpractice against the hospital.

I’m sure there’s much more to the story than the article reveals. Still, it demonstrates a number of flaws in the system. Notably, the bill is beyond any reasonable comprehension and “readjustments” that can turn $9.2 million into $2.25 million show there’s no rational basis for pricing. Obviously something wasn’t managed well along the way if the bills were allowed to linger unpaid for five years. Why didn’t the patient have insurance or sign up for Medicaid? And clearly the customer service experience appears to have been worse than most.

It’s pretty obvious that the hospital won’t recover its expenses from this patient’s estate. But if the costs are real, someone is paying. It’s probably commercially insured patients paying more than they should.

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