A front page story in many newspapers this week was about a government report showing outrageous hospital charges across the country. We are supposed to be shocked that getting medical care in a hospital is a lot like buying a used car. If you have insurance, you get a pretty good price. If you have Medicare, you get a better price. If you don’t have insurance, or if you have lousy health insurance, you get an outrageous bill.
To me this is old news, since I wrote about a Tucson man and his $126,000 hospital bill back in 2011. I thought I’d share the story again.
MEDICARE STORY: 24-HOUR HOSPITAL STAY, $126,241 BILL
When you spend the night in the hospital, you would assume you had been “admitted” to the hospital – but you could be wrong. And this definition of your status could cost you thousands of dollars if your Medicare Advantage plan has a 20% co-pay for “outpatient surgery”.
I met last week with a man who went to Northwest Hospital to have stents put in his coronary arteries. Ralph spent about 24 hours in the hospital and he was in a bed, in a room, overnight. So you would think he had been “admitted” to the hospital.
Ralph gave me copies of his bill from Northwest Hospital that showed his 24-hour stay cost $126,241.67!!!!
The biggest charge was $13,148 for “cardiology” services – and this charge was repeated 5 times on the bill. I’m figuring he got five stents. The bill included a $3,049.01 charge for an “observation room”. And this “observation room” charge is why Ralph got burned.
Don’t have a heart attack, Ralph didn’t have to pay that much.
The good news for Ralph, who is 86 years old, is that his Medicare Advantage plan had to pay only $14,093.04 of the $126,241.67 hospital bill. This is because Medicare sets the price for each service, and $14,093.04 was the total of “approved” charges associated with Ralph’s 24-hour hospital stay – or rather, his observation stay.
The $126,241 bill is a made up number – unless you don’t have insurance. Then this outrageous number is your starting point for negotiating how much you will pay for the medical care you received. This story is really about Ralph’s Medicare Advantage plan.
The bad news for Ralph is that his Medicare Advantage plan requires him to pay 20% for “outpatient surgery”, so he had to pay $2,814.48.
Medicare Advantage plans have a set co-pay for in-patient hospital care, which is $295 per day (days 1-5) in Ralph’s plan. So I would have thought his bill would be $590. But because the bill says he was in an “observation room”, Ralph had to pay a lot more.
Something to consider with Medicare Advantage:
What is the charge for “outpatient surgery” in your plan, or the plan you are considering joining? Most plans have a set fee of $150, $175, or $275 dollars for outpatient surgery or services. But Ralph’s plan says he must pay 20% for any outpatient surgery or diagnostic tests. So he is stuck with a big bill because of how his Medicare Advantage plan is designed – and because Northwest Hospital never admitted him.
Hospitals are routinely “not admitting” patients so they can charge more money to Medicare and patients.
According to an email I recently received:
The Center for Medicare Advocacy has heard increasingly about beneficiaries throughout the country whose entire stays in a hospital, including stays as long as 14 days, are classified by the hospital as outpatient observation. In some instances, the beneficiaries’ physicians order their admission, but the hospital retroactively reverses the decision. As a consequence of the classification of a hospital stay as outpatient observation (or of the reclassification of a hospital stay from inpatient care, covered by Medicare Part A, to outpatient care, covered by Medicare Part B), beneficiaries are charged for various services they received in the acute care hospital, including their prescription medications.