Is $629 too much to charge for applying a Band-Aid?

A story that made the rounds of social media platforms last year dealt with the high costs associated with emergency medical care.

A first-time father overreacted to the amount of blood his year-old daughter was losing after her mother nicked her fingertip while cutting her tiny nails. He brought the little girl to the local hospital's emergency room, thinking a stitch might be in order.

It wasn't. The ER physician merely rinsed the cut with water and slapped a Band-Aid on it, and the bleeding stopped. All was well with the young girl.

Within days, her parents got a bill for $629 for services rendered at the ER. They were outraged. Was this justifiable?

The insurance company didn't feel it was. Their negotiations got the total down to $440.30. That was the parents' responsibility to pay, as they had not yet met their deductible.

They tried to negotiate with the hospital themselves and received a letter detailing why the price was fair. The parents wound up with the debt turned over to an agency for collection.

To some extent, the hospital was on solid footing with their billing. In his response, the chief executive officer of the umbrella corporation that owns the hospital explained that the charges encompassed far more than the $7 Band-Aid for the baby's finger. The additional hundreds covered the cost of utilizing the ER facilities, its staff and physician.

"Facility fees" are what swell patients' minor medical bills. The high costs of staffing a 24/7-access ER gets passed on to all who enter through its doors, regardless of the severity of their complaint.

The arbitrary nature of these fees is what hangs up a lot of consumers who use the services of an ER for treatment. Hospitals are free to charge what they please as fees to use their facilities. Some may be reasonable, while others are outlandish.

The one commonality they share is that few facility fees are made public. That's a problem, considering that two-thirds of consumer bankruptcy filings are related to sky-high medical bills.

The family in this saga had a good ending to their plight. After intercession from the media, the parents learned that the charges were reversed. But not all will be so lucky.

If you face mountains of medical bills, learning about your options through bankruptcy is prudent.

Source: Vox, "The case of the $629 Band-Aid — and what it reveals about American health care," Sarah Kliff, accessed July 05, 2017

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