Last week while I was drinking Indio and Dos Equis, Anthony Cirillo, president of Fast Forward Consulting, which specializes in experience management and strategic marketing for healthcare facilities wrote an article in Hospital Impact entitled, “Much like airlines, hospitals nickel and dime patients”, in which he says that hospitals have learned from the airline industry how to nickel and dime patients by making up reimbursement cuts by creatively finding ways to charge extra and often hidden fees.
Mr. Cirillo cites two articles in The New York Times by Elizabeth Rosenthal. The first article, “After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know”, mentioned that a patient received a bill from an assistant surgeon he did not know was on his case. The bill was $117,000. The primary surgeon was reimbursed for $6,200, but the assistant surgeon billed for, and was reimbursed for the $117,000.
The second article, “As Insurers Try to Limit Costs, Providers Hit Patients With More Separate Fees”, discussed how providers are billing patients for separate fees such as a $1,400 emergency room fee, which the insurer paid , when a husband and wife went to a hospital for a scheduled induction of labor for their second child, and a $2,457 fee for “noncritical activation” of the trauma team in addition to the hospital’s $240 facility fee, after a woman drove her stepdaughter to an emergency room after a bicycle crash.
Cirillo said that patients do have options and choice when it comes to their healthcare. They can choose between local competitors, go cross-county, cross-state, out of state and out of country. Medical tourism continues to grow and with the increasing number of Joint Commission International accredited hospitals, employers are actively choosing to send people overseas.
This option, as I have been saying now for two years, should also apply to workers’ comp. Anyone who thinks that hospitals will not try to stick it to employers and comp carriers for their injured workers’ medical bills is sadly mistaken, fee schedule or no fee schedule.
Employers who are self-insured or who are in a state that allows them to opt-out of the statutory system, are vulnerable to this adding on of fees to the total hospital bill, on top of what the surgeon charges for the actual operation, much the same way patients in the two articles by Ms. Rosenthal were.
When the bill came from the hospital in which my father passed away in, the total bill was over $200,000. I looked through it to see if there were any charges that did not seem right, but could not find anything out of place. With his health insurance paying the majority of the bill, our portion was still over $900.
Cirillo also stated that as high-deductible plans become the norm, these fees impact consumers directly and then cause health premiums to rise in tandem. Sure, he states, there are legitimate fees typically not reimbursed, but then there are the wink and the nod fees that have become so commonplace that they fade into the background and people are numb to them just like the airline charges.
Some employers have high-deductible workers’ comp policies, and it would be incumbent on them and their brokers to explore alternatives to extra and added-on hospital bill fees, and as Mr. Cirillo said, medical tourism can be one such alternative.