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Time Study Finds Some Hospitals Bill Patients Many Times More Than Actual Procedure Cost

By Ron ClaiborneABC News

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 nonprofit 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.

This article was written by Ron Claiborne and published in ABC News on February 22, 2013. Photo by Images Money/Flicker.


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