How Hospitals Mark Up the Cost of Over-the-Counter Supplies Like Aspirin and Q-tips as Much as 1000%

by on March 26, 2013 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health

Chargemaster: Hospitals’ Killer App for Sucking Your Financial Blood Dry – Part 3

blood-240x240by John Lawrence / San Diego Free Press

Hospitals charge their customers … er, patients, through the nose for simple products which anyone can purchase at WalMart for a fraction of the amount. In Part 1 and Part 2 we detailed the ridiculous prices hospitals routinely charge their patients – like several thousand dollars a day – just for a room. In this installment we will go over the markups on products that are added on to patients’ bills.

Suffice it to say that for anything consumable, there will be a Chargemaster billing item. The Chargemaster is the giant computer file that lists the charge for every possible medical service and supply that a hospital provides. Nothing is “included.” Everything is billed out separately, ala carte. The following outlandish charges are referenced in a Time article, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, by Steven Brill.

Like, for example, gauze pads. Following a patient’s diagnosis of lung cancer, he was charged $308.00 for four boxes of sterile gauze pads each containing twenty-four 4 inch by 4 inch dressings, which can be bought over the counter at Walgreen’s for $3.99 a box. These were tacked onto his $348,000.00 bill.

Another patient was charged $18.00 each for Accu-Chek diabetes test strips. Amazon sells boxes of 50 for about $27.00 or 55 cents each. For the price of one Lipitor pill in the US you can buy three in Argentina. One hospital charged $1.50 for one 325-mg acetaminophen tablet. You can buy 100 tablets on Amazon for $1.49. That’s a 10,000% markup.

dewey et alOne Nexium pill in the US costs the same as eight of them in France. No wonder the pharmaceutical industry has millions of dollars to spend on TV advertising to try to convince you to talk your doctor into prescribing them for you. Then as soon as you see the ad to get you to buy Plavix, there follows an ad for some legal firm saying in effect “If you’ve ever been harmed by Plavix, call the Dewey, Cheatham and Howe law firm.”

For instance, the lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. are trolling for Plavix users throughout the United States who have suffered serious and potentially fatal injuries as a result of the medication. Their website states: “Research has linked side effects of Plavix to an increased risk of certain health problems, which the manufacturer failed to adequately warn about.”

Steven H’s bill contained an item – MARKER SKIN REG TIP RULER – for $3.00. That’s the reusable marking pen that marked the place on Steven H’s back where the incision would go. Then there was the STRAP OR TABLE 8X27 IN for $31.00 That’s the strap used to hold Steven H onto the operating table. Hey, do you suppose they could use that again for some other patient?

Right after that charge was one for $32.00 for a BLNKT WARM UPPER BDY 42268. That’s a blanket whose purpose is to keep surgery patients warm. It is of course reusable and is available on eBay for $13.00 They even billed poor old Steven H for the gown the surgeon wore! That came to $39.00 You can buy thirty of them online for $180.00

On one patient’s bill was a charge of $108.00 for Bacitracin, a common antibiotic ointment, which can be purchased over the counter at Walgreen’s for $5.99. But a charge on Sean Recchi’s bill takes the cake. We detailed Sean Recchi’s case in Part 2. As part of his $83,900.00 bill (that he was ordered to pay in advance of any treatment and in cash) was a charge of $7.00 each for an ALCOHOL PREP PAD. This is a little square of cotton used to apply alcohol to an injection. A box of 200 can be bought online for $1.91.

These kinds of charges show just how picayune the charges dictated by the Chargemaster can be. And remember these are non-profit hospitals, non-profits that make huge profits, more than most for-profits because – guess why – they don’t pay any taxes.

Soon after his diagnosis of lung cancer, Steven D and his wife knew that they were just in the business of buying time. And because of that the Chargemaster money demanded by the health care system went into overdrive. It reached a whole different and exalted plateau. By the time Steven D died 11 months later in his Daly City, California home, his bills totaled $902,452.00.

alcohol prep padIt was left for his surviving wife, who made about $40K a year running a child-care center, to pay it off. The first bill from Seton Medical Center for $348,000.00 was full of Chargemaster profit grabs. For instance, there was a charge of $24.00 each for 19 niacin pills that are sold in drugstores for about a nickel apiece.

Steven D and his wife maxed out on a UnitedHealthcare policy for $50,000. that he had bought through a community college where Steven was briefly enrolled. We detailed the destructive effects of these mini-med, limited benefit policies in Part 2. That left them with over $850,000.00 for which they themselves were responsible.

Luckily, they found a billing advocate who negotiated their bill down to what amounted to an 85% discount. When Steven Brill contacted Seton Medical center to ask why there were all these ridiculous charges that they were subsequently willing to negotiate down if the patient’s family was lucky enough to find a billing advocate, there was no comment. There was no comment either to the question of why they sent patients’ families bills that they didn’t expect to collect at a particularly sensitive and upsetting time in their lives.

When all was said and done, Steven D’s wife said: “I’m never going to remarry. I can’t risk the liability.”

When Brill queried Texas Southwestern Medical Center about a patient’s charge of $132,303.00 for LABORATORY, which included hundreds of blood and urine tests that ranged from $30.00 to $333.00 each, he was told that no one was available to discuss billing practices. A hospital spokesman informed him, “The law does not allow us to talk about how we bill.”

Really? It’s against the law to discuss the bill? Who knew?

If, however, this unfortunate family had been on Medicare, Medicare would have paid Texas Southwestern either nothing or $7.00 to $30.00 for these tests because Medicare negotiates prices with hospitals based on the real cost of the service or item, not on some out-of-touch-with-reality fantasy cost like those dictated by Chargemaster.

Most hospitals overorder lab tests especially for those patients staying multiple days. Every day new tests are ordered even though they’re not necessary. They become a cash cow for the hospital. And it’s a cash cow for the many doctors who stroll around poking their heads into various patients’ rooms. It gives them something to talk about and an excuse for charging big sums for every poke.

One ingenuous doctor told Brill, “I bet 60% of the labs are unnecessary.” Doctors cruise the halls and pop in their heads wherever while collecting handsome fees.

STOCK Health operation Generic Health picsHow do hospitals get away with it? Lobbying is the answer, pure and simple. For every member of Congress, there are more than seven lobbyists working for various parts of the health care industry. The health care industry, what I call the medical-industrial complex, has spent $5.36 billion since 1998 lobbying in Washington.

That is even larger than the $1.53 billion spent by the defense and aerospace industries and the $1.3 billion spent by the oil and gas corporations over the same period. The medical-industrial complex spends three times more than the military-industrial complex lobbying Congress which consists of politicians who are supposed to be representing We the People but in fact are representing the health care industry.

Next time. Part 4. Why are the cost of prescription drugs so high?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

devon April 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

experiencd it on april 15th 2010 at scripps in hillcrest
my bike got hit by a car
i learned to fly

the stretcher in the amblance caused me the most pain out of the whole experience
i told them how bad it was messing up the back of my head, they said it was mandatory.

At the hospitol I was given an arm sling
I said that I didnt want it
something was mumbled to me, for reasons unknown I took it
I was charged $120 for a $12 verified sling
it was the flimsiest sling I had ever seen
I could not find anyone on the interenet selling the exact sling in the exact color for more than $12. They graciously added a zero.
I never wore it because I noticed people were lookin at me like I was weak
I sensed that someone would rob me, so i didnt wear it. nor did i need it.

nurse walked into my room with a brand new machine apparatus
he went to open it and explained to me what it was an what it does
I shrieked ‘that thing looks expensive and I DEFINATELY DO NOT NEED IT’
it was a leg wrap that plugged into the wall
it would sorta inflate and deflate to make sure that my legs were circulating properly
I explained that there was NOTHING wrong with my legs, i was a very healthy active person and that there was a situation in my shoulder only.
I showed him my get well flowers that i picked outside myself and explianed to him that I had been on many walks while there. He told me that i was a trauma victem and that it was mandatory. He said he had to put it on, and i could immeditely take it off. He put it on. I said can i take it off? he said yes. So i did. Then i got up and placed it on the window sill. I was billed a few 1,000 for that machine. If everyone gets a new one, what happens to the old ones?

i was charged 1,200 for I.V.s that never touched my body
was given a pregnancy test that could prove nothing yet reveal that I had been artificial insemenated in the night by an alien obduction

a women walks in with 5 students for 10 minutes and asks if it is okay for them to be in the room
there visit cost 5,000

i denied pain medication the entire 24hrs i was there.
on the way out I ask for a vicadin prescription so that I could trade it for pot
It was really disturbing because it felt like I made them happy by asking for the drugs and they got really excited to give me that order.
It was extra disturbing because i refused them while in excruciating pain for 24hrs, and they knew it. I hid no feelings and cast no eye lash when i expressed to them that I was going to use those drugs on the black market. I did not flat out saay it, but i tried as hard as i could to express that i was up to shady business. They were thankful that I was being a team player.

i thought the food was gonna kill me
it wasn’t food

the window sill was made of expensive marble
I had a view of the ocean

at night i was thankful i was alive
by day i realized that place had a high potential to kill me
the night shift was inspired by me
they showed me thier old skateboard wounds and brought me the freshest fruit I ever ate
the day shift thought i was homeless-and sent in a social worker (IM SERIOUS)
they gave me baby bagels wrapped in plastic made with ingredients that were not food

they were very concerned of how dehydrated i was
it was sooooooooooooooo important for me to get ‘fluids’ (I.V.)
my veins jumped from every needle
they finally gave up and gave me ‘water’
They made me wait at lest 4 hours for that ‘water’ because they were so obsessed with the needles and tubes. my mother has informed me that the refused the water just incase I needed surgery. I have deeply respected the conciousness of my veins ever since. They protected me.

the bill was 30,000
i did the math and came up with 3,000
one less zero

if you wake in the hospitol……use a fake name
then blame it on the concussion
question everything
make a log
it will float thoughts forgotten

sorry for the bland writing…………….no energy for the madness


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