Missouri Family Received a $1,000 Bill After Visiting the ER and Never Seeing a Doctor
Dhaval Bhatt, who immigrated to Missouri from India, says he always avoided hospitals in the U.S. to avoid large medical bills. But he couldn't anymore after his 2-year-old son burned his hand.
How could one family end up with a doctor's bill for $1,000 without ever seeing a doctor?
Dhaval Bhatt, who immigrated to Missouri from India, says he always avoided hospitals in the U.S. to avoid large medical bills. But he couldn't anymore after his 2-year-old son burned his hand on the stove in April.
Dhaval says his wife, Mansi, called their pediatrician, who told them to go to the ER.
"I was very much worried," Mansi said. "The blisters came on his hand. So at that time, I really panicked."
The hospital coded it as a level 3 — a moderately severe injury. Mansi says a nurse took her son's vitals, looked at his wound, and said a surgeon would examine it more closely.
But after waiting over an hour, they decided to leave without seeing a doctor.
"It was so annoying and frustrating," Dhaval said. "I was just thinking, why isn't someone coming to take a look at my son if his wound is so severe?"
After a few days, their son's hand healed on its own. But then, a hospital bill for $1,012 came. And Bhatt owed over $850 after insurance adjustments.
A reporter suggested he ask for an itemized bill to see the breakdown of the exact charges. Most of the bill was for a "facility fee" — something hospitals can charge anyone who walks in and registers even if they don't get treated.
"I was very astonished to see that it's such a crazy bill when nothing was done to my son," Dhavul noted.
After contacting the hospital several times to fix the issue, his bill was sent to collections. Dhaval says facility fees don't exist in India, and the concept of them still doesn't make sense to him.
"If you compare it to just walking to the grocery store," he explained, "you don't get charged for just entering the room or place. Like, if you don't get any services, you don't pay."
In November, the hospital eventually waived the facility fee after a Kaiser Health News reporter got involved. Bhatt's bill was then lowered to $38.92, the cost for seeing the nurse.
In a statement, the hospital said, in part, that the charge was appropriate based on the treatment of the burn provided by a nurse practitioner supervisor and factors, including a traumatic wound assessment, adding that it posts information about pricing online and at its care sites.
Experts say patients can avoid headaches when visiting the ER by asking for an itemized bill. And if someone thinks their visit has been up-coded, they should complain. Because they know how much treatment was given, but insurers don't.
For minor issues, they recommend getting care at a clinic or a doctor instead.
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