Readers Respond: Your Hospital Bill Nightmares, via CNN iReport

How much does it cost to stay healthy? Readers shared their thoughts — and their remarkable health care charges — following Steven Brill's recent TIME cover story, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us"

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How much does it cost to stay healthy? Steven Brill’s recent TIME cover story, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” took an in-depth look into America’s health care nightmare,  prompting a national discussion about Medicare, drug companies and insurance.

We asked you to use CNN’s iReport to tell us how the high cost of health care has changed your life. The results were eye-opening: from a two-week hospital stay that cost nearly half a million dollars to a $23,000 bill for prescription medicine. Read more below and share your stories with us.

ACL reconstruction surgery: $30,877

Eric Cooks, 33, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was recently charged $30,877 for ACL reconstruction surgery

CNN iReport

Eric Cooks, 33, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was recently charged $30,877 for ACL reconstruction surgery. Thankfully, Cooks has insurance, but he was still shocked by the cost. “The healthcare system needs reform and I am not sure if the Affordable Care Act will be enough; these prices are crippling,” he said. “People are avoiding going to the doctor even with insurance leading to potentially more expensive chronic conditions. Overall, access to quality preventative care and specialists is still lacking for those without insurance.”

Stitches & scar repair: $22,000

26-year-old Mallory Kerley was billed approximately $22,000 for stitches and scar repair

CNN iReport

After being bitten by a dog, 26-year-old Mallory Kerley was billed approximately $22,000 for stitches and scar repair. She later found out that the doctor was not part of her insurance plan and has been working with her insurance company for nearly a year now to try to adjust the costs.

Double pneumonia hospital stay: $999,932

Alexandria Brooks, 46, of Hernando, Florida, was recently charged $999,932 for a month-and-a-half hospital stay for double pneumonia

CNN iReport

Alexandria Brooks, 46, of Hernando, Florida, was recently charged $999,932 for a month-and-a-half hospital stay for double pneumonia, which later developed into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). She wanted to share her story because that one bill was just $67 short of one million dollars. Another one of her notable bills: $36,806 to be airlifted to a different hospital. “People ask me about my bills. I am grateful that I had insurance; however, it is not preventing my credit and finances from being ruined. Such a large deductible despite HUGE premiums paid and the disputes between the insurance and the providers leaves one very vulnerable, insured or not,” she said.

Open heart surgery: $428,903

Open heart surgery: $428,903

CNN iReport

Elise Hay’s daughter, Nora, was born with heart problems and needed surgery when she was four days old. After the two-week hospital stay, surgery, tests, and medications, the cost was nearly half a million dollars. Luckily, Hay and her husband have health insurance through her employer, so their out-of-pocket costs were only $2,395. “As a parent, I’d do anything and pay anything for the health and safety of my child,” said Hay, who lives in Los Angeles. “If that means paying half a million dollars for her to have a healthy, beating heart, I’d do it. How? I’m grateful for my employer-sponsored health care coverage and thankful that I don’t need to have an answer.”

Pulmonary arterial hypertension: $68,000 plus $23,000 in medication

Pulmonary arterial hypertension: $68,000 plus $23,000 in medication

CNN iReport

It took doctors about nine months to diagnose Kevin Paskawych of Marietta, Ohio, with pulmonary arterial hypertension, and all those diagnostic tests – plus four days in an Intensive Care Unit – added up. Plus, he now takes six very expensive drugs each day to manage the condition. He’s uninsured, so he relies on organizations for people with his illness and pharmaceutical company programs to pay for his meds. “The threat of high bills and insurance copays are frightening many patients away until it is almost too late,” he commented.

Please note that these exact numbers are self-reported and have not been independently verified by CNN or TIME. While costs for procedures can vary widely based on the doctor, hospital, and insurance plan, these numbers are in line with average and/or typical charges.

29 comments
shawkate05
shawkate05

I'm Scott from New Yoke. my colleagues and i have just receive a loan $10000 from James White Finance Home. My advice goes to you out there that is financially stoke, no access to bank loan or your credit score is low, contact him via email: jameswhitefinancehome@yahoo.com.  you will feel the same with me. Blessed is the hand of a giver than of receiver.

maej73
maej73

My sixteen year old son went into Kaiser for his 'free' physical and put, on a questionnaire he was requested to fill out, that he sometimes gets cramps in his chest when he runs.  This was reason for Kaiser to deny his physical until seeing a cardiologist to clear him for sports.  In 2 appointments, our out of pocket expenses were $2246.80.  At the end of his second appointment, they said his heart and lungs appear to function normal and they gave him his sports physical.  It was 2 months later before I received the bills. What would I do if they had found a problem when I am nearly bankrupt from a couple of diagnostic tests?  He has a severe problem with his big toes, that is affecting his athletics, and I am afraid we may not be able to support our other 2 children when he has the surgeries this summer.

cordemusc
cordemusc

I recently took treatment for cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  From a clinical point, I feel fortunate to have the ability to go to such a world notable health facility for treatment.  I couldn't have asked for better.  However, the billing and interaction with the financial portion of MDA has been less than pleasant.  

Out of approximately $250,000 in charges for 30 days of treatment (over 5 months), I've noted a number of billing errors.  Much of what was pointed out in the article is true about hospital billing.  Of the $250,000, 30% ($72,000) came down to six injections.  The estimated cost of the drug was likely around $3,000 per injection or $18,000.  A full 50% of billed charges was for IV medication.

While most of the charges are covered under a group health insurance plan, I did find out that MDA charges a physician charge for an "on-call" physician for each IV administration done at MDA (and that is quite a few annually).  In 2010 MDA reported just over 288,000 outpatient visits, a substantial portion of which are likely chemotherapy visits.  With investigation, I find these on-call physician charges are "just in case something goes wrong"; however they are billed NOT as an on-call charge, but as a brief visit, as if you went to a doctor's office to have sutures removed.  My insurance has attributed copays to these charges resulting in approximately $1,000 owed to MDA (for physicians I never saw).  Further, if billed correctly, the insurance would have likely denied the charge as NO medical service was provided.  A review of my medical record confirms no medical service was provided.

I have met, explained, documented, corresponded etc etc with various individuals from MDA (including Dr. DePinho, President of MDA), with little to no response, other than collection letters.  Further, I have found their monthly statements are RIDDLED with math errors, posting payments backwards, or not posting them at all or to the wrong account.

In an effort to get some resolution, I have sought help from HHS - Office of Inspector General, United Healthcare Special Investigations Unit, Aetna/CIGNA/Blue Cross Special Investigations Units, The Houston Chronicle, University of Texas System Office, the Texas Department of Insurance and others.

The moral of the story is the MDA billing department and compliance officers apparently just want people who have concerns to "just go away" even though there are unproven allegations of billing fraud.  If it looks like a rat, and smells like a rat it is probably a rat.

truegrits
truegrits

My husband has multiple myeloma and I could write a book.  But it isn't just the Docs. or the  pharms, its the idiotic medicare rules, and hospitals that shoot themselves in the foot with their dumb billing praccties.   My husband had to spend 16 days in hosp. for a procedure that could ahve been mostly outpaitient and saved medicare tens of thousands, except they won't pay for numerous inane little that the SCT patient needs unless he is hospitalized.  I could have administered medications, flushed his lines, etc, but siince medicare won't pay for the supplies its in hosp the facility we were using required it.  Even though I paid $105 in cash for supplies to flush his lines.  The providing facility billed medicare $900. for them.  Justr goes to show how those facilities are trying to rip us off.

We discovered that you can get a prescription for over the counter drugs take it to Wal Mart and save over a hundred dollars a year.

I had a procedure done and paid $5000 up front.  Even though the final bill after insurance adjustments was only $4300 and hospital probably knew that going in, they billed $6800. and PAID a bill collector to get the difference from me because the insurance was taking too long, even though the hospital had to refund to me the $2500 in the end.  Just another example of the idiocy that is out there.

I agree that Medicare or Tri care for everyone would be great, BUT NOT if its going to be run like this.



TaraJAlexander
TaraJAlexander

Doctors and hospital are in the business of making money, so are insurance companies, often at our expense. Phantom charges, undisclosed add on fees, and aggressive collection practices are the norm. Patient Financial Advocates help consumers get better prices on their medical bills and get insurance companies to pay their fair share. They help you understand what you are being billed for and what you can do about it. They are in the business of helping YOU. 

fausty1944
fausty1944

SORRY I MADE A BIG MISTAKE

DRUG COSTS ARE MUCH LOWER IN THE UK AND EUROPE THAN IN THE STATES, and not higher as I posted in error

fausty1944
fausty1944

I am a retired pharmacist in the UK and have visited the USA several times.

You are all being ripped off by an unscrupulous combination of greedy hospitals, pharmaceutical companies , doctors and insurance companies.

The basic costs of most drugs are much higher in the UK than in the States. The good old National Health Service drives down the cost of many drugs both branded and generic, and I think that this is similar in most of Europe.

Many years ago I needed to take my daughter's friend, who was holidaying with us, to a hospital outpatient dept. in Florida.

She was over medicated and over treated for what was s simple self-limiting condition at , needless to say, considerable cost for the insurance company.

In the last couple of years we have had a fair amount of contact with the medical profession.

My wife has breast cancer and is now receiving post-op chemotherapy, my sister sadly has a melanoma which has spread and my grand daughter has cystic fibrosis.

They are all being treated in hospitals with a top class international reputation and although it is all sometimes traumatic, the cost is NIL.

People actually complain about the cost of parking at hospitals, they can have little idea of what it's like across the pond.

Contrary to opinions spread by the medical lobby the vast majority of medical treatments are available completely free of charge and those that are not available are generally because sound medical judgement either has decided that they don't work well enough or are in the process of evaluation..

The NHS is not perfect but if you look at health statistics the USA does poorly compared with most if not all of Europe.

I am just amazed that the States is the only first world country that does have some sort of national health service.

billsincl
billsincl

 I was admitted to Providence Little company of Mary hospital for food poisoning last November. Despite the fact that I was there for only ONE DAY, they submitted a bill to Medicare for $17300. Medicare knocked that down quite a bit, but the hospital put "self administered" medications on my bill totaling $439, which Medicare does not cover. They were NOT prescribed by any doctor. These were medications I did not ask for, did not need, and never received. In other words, they were put there just for THEIR PROFIT MOTIVE. I told them they would have to sue me to collect that amount, since I feel it was FRAUD.

This is an example of how these hospitals treat their patients, not as people needing medical care, but as a CASH COW.

twilliams
twilliams

I thought my $1650 emergency room bill for two stitches and a tetanus shot was bad. I generally stay away from the emergency room but it was too late to go to my regular doctor or urgent care.   The insurance company paid $1200 but the hospital said they have no contract with them so aren't required to honor their request not to come after me for the remaining $450.  I've gotten to the point where, despite having insurance, I'm nervous about going to the doctor. Even if I get pre-approval from the insurance company, I can't be sure they're going to pay and I never know what the hospitals/labs/doctors will charge.  I've been in situations where the doctor was covered but the lab they used wasn't.  It's difficult enough to find decent medical care without having to worry about what kind of monstrous bills I'm going to see down the road.

rvrgrrl
rvrgrrl

...enragingly frustrated and powerless...is what I was trying to say :o)

rvrgrrl
rvrgrrl

As I write this, my spouse and I are beginning the process of filing for bankruptcy due to medical bills...and we have insurance, which - it turns out, is no guarantee of financial safety. The largest portion of our debt is the result of both our insurance companies fighting over who should pay the bill for a procedure they BOTH preapproved. While they fight, the hospital sends the bill to collection. We can't afford an attorney to fight the collection agency, so they harass us mercilessly and threaten to garnish my wages (because i am also lucky eough to have a job). We can't pay the medical bill because it is nearly as large as my annual salary. I believe that most people feel enragingly The way I feel is: God Forbid that you ever need major medical care in the U.S.

average-joe
average-joe

I am an American citizen now living in Taiwan. It is possible for foreigners who are working long term here to get into the national medical coverage plan. I personally have also had shocking experiences with med charges in USA. Just to give folks back home an idea of what it could/should be like, here is our personal story. Our daughter had thyroid tumors (malignant) and had to have surgery in 2012. The cost of the surgery and 3 nights stay in the hospital to us was only ... are you ready ... less than $200 USD! Of course this was not the "master list" price of the what the hospital say is the actual cost is. What was the listed "master list" charge? $2000 USD! Even accounting for cost of living differences this still puts the US system to shame. BTW, almost all the doctors here have some sort of western med school training and/or internship. The equipment is also top notch. This erases any sort of rational for why the US medical system cannot lower their rates. Certainly some "sacrifices" have to made, such as > $1million salaries, inability to file frivolous lawsuits, etc... but that is a good thing. We teach our kids that our actions and behavior show what is truly in the heart. It is clear that many in the USA puts the pursuit of money above caring for each other and just plain old "doing the right thing". I know there are good folks out there that are in the medical profession. I just hope that more of those take to heart their vow to serve the people above serving themselves. Thanks for reading.

SarojPatel
SarojPatel

here is the comparition.............Arjentina.....city scan-$78,Australia.........254,Canada......122,Chili-184,France-141,Germany-272,India-43,Spain-123,Swetezerland-319,and USA-510.and for bypass surgery Arjentina-9319,Australia-38891,Canada-40954,Chili-20505,France-16140,Germany-16578,India-4525,Spain-17908,Swetzerland-25486,USA-67583.why so much difference in charges?All is done by drs and they use same theaory and medicines.PEOPLE SHOULD WAKE UP......................

bnc1492
bnc1492

About five years ago, my mother being 88 years old and living by herself in a retirement community, over the course of three months called 911 for an ambulance 13 times. she was taken to the very same south Florida hospital emergency room each time. The bills ranged from several thousand to 20 thousand dollars with never any kind of resolution. aftere having her moved into a nursing home, it was found that her basic problem was nothing more than simple anxiety!!!!!!!!!!  It appears that the hospital  was incapable of using simple doctoring skills to come up with a solution. They preferred to go the high tech way.

teachrgirl
teachrgirl

Either American consumers of health care (that's all of us, right?) are idiots are we have just given up on ever expecting the representatives we elects to protect us to ever be anything other than minions to this powerful industry.  The secrecy involved in pricing is crazy.  Are they electing a pope?  

In the little town where I live (in MS) there are 4 adult MD's who are in town on at least some weekdays and 3 of them have signs that they don't take "new" Medicare patients.  I don't think this is just anti-government-in- healthcare sentiment, it's sheer profit motive.  Why see Medicare patients when you can be seeing patients that will give you a much bigger house and newer Mercedes?  As the article points out, doctors are making a profit  on Medicare patients too, just not the profit margin they can get from out-of-pocket or privately insured patients.

 And we should view our local nonprofit hospital with the same sentiment we view our local mugger.  


sass249
sass249

I have long wondered WHY the costs of health care are so great and it seems there is too much related secrecy to get to an understanding of it, although I am pleased by your efforts.  During my experience of breast cancer, I learned how the system carefully calculates the value of your life before you even walk into your doctor's office.  Then they practice secrecy regarding the use of the diagnostic tool of MRI to detect breast cancer.  In this case, they would rather not bother with your paying for a diagnostic yourself.  That secrecy could cost me my life.  Please  read my account of the experience at

http://mammogramsanddcis.blogspot.com    (mammograms and dcis), the act accordingly.  

You will learn more than you ever wanted to know about how things work.  My story could even save your or a loved one's life.  (You can leave a comment or question.)  Thank you.

Katherine Langley

farzillo
farzillo

great article, hope it wakes up lots of readers to the nightmare of the health care system here in our country

farzillo
farzillo

great article, hope many people write their congressmen and ask that reform is on the agenda

LenSimpson
LenSimpson

Tip of the iceberg ,outshone only by the military/industrial complex

SEANBIGG5
SEANBIGG5

I'm sick of this. Can I submit a picture of my $60K undergraduate loans and my $150K medical school loans followed by 5 years of a $12/per hour 80hour/week residency. And my reward for spending 12 years of my life (all of my 20s) in classrooms and hospitals...the people I have dedicated my life to helping, complaining about how much it costs. And I don't want to hear about how much docs make in other countries. They get med school paid for by the government and don't face near the number of lawsuits we do.

jws1957
jws1957

@average-joe Greed and money run the health care industry.  We have reached a point where the only way to stop it is for most everyone to STOP buying health insurance, save their money, place their assets into legally protected places and pay only what one can reasonably afford.  Having a third party payer just keeps the system going with no price controls because they always know they WILL GET PAID - by insurance.  Taking away the insurance would pull the rug out from the medical industry nice and fast.  My wife and I have never bought insurance in our 30+ years of marriage and combined including having a child have spent less than a couple of thousand dollars in our 55 year lives.  Why should we pay for smokers, excessive drinkers, foolish drivers, those who will not eat right and keep their weight down, etc?  We flatly will NOT participate in Obamacare and hope others will do the same!  We have saved about $250,000 by not buying medical insurance and now are debt free, no mortgage by age 40 and traveling the world fully enjoying our lives.

AdamReed-Erickson
AdamReed-Erickson

@SEANBIGG5 One key difference: Those who choose the medical profession do so knowing what they are signing up for, and may have even had the choice of what school to attend, what type of loans to apply for (and accept), what hospital to complete residency in, etc... The folks profiled in the article made no such choice. Doctors do make sacrifices, but from my perspective they do so with eyes open. 

rayrod
rayrod

@SEANBIGG5 "Can I submit a picture of my $60K undergraduate loans and my $150K medical school loans followed by 5 years of a $12/per hour 80hour/week residency"

Yes, please do! You can upload here -- http://ireport.cnn.com/topics/930055 -- and share your thoughts, and we'll be happy to take a look.

magicbird
magicbird

@SEANBIGG5 Author Steven Brill acknowledges that physicians deserve fair pay for the kind of work you do, and that changes in health care costs need to allow for this or the number of doctors in the US will drop.

But it's not fair for you to accuse people who are upset over outrageous medical bills of being "complainers" when many of us, or our friends or neighbors, have been financially ruined by the horrendoushly dishonest billing practices of hospitals.  It is nothing short of grand theft.  Actually, it's worse than grand theft because we trusted the people who stole from us--the so-called 'healing professionals.'

My story:  Six years ago my unemployed and uninsured son called me from the local hospital's ER and asked me if I would cover the cost of the rabies' vaccine series because he had had an encounter with a bat.  There hadn't been a case of human rabies from bats in NJ in 60 years, but I agreed--better to be safe than sorry. And a friend of mine in animal control, who had to get the series every year, told me series cost $400 from the manufacturer.  Well, the bill the hospital sent me was for $9,000!  For $400 worth of injections? 

 I am not "complaining" to you, Seanbiggs.  I am expressing my outrage over being robbed by a system that swears to "do no harm"--and yet it steals from the sick and the helpless.


comeupwithsomething
comeupwithsomething

@SEANBIGG5 If you'll listen to NPR's Diane Rehm's show about the Time Magazine article "Bitter Pill" I think you'll find that it's not Doctor's specifically, but the health care industry generally, and hospitals specifically, that make the most money. As a medical professional, do your research and don't be defensive. The dollars referred to in this discussion are not doctor specific. 

Might you agree that $1.50 for an Advil pill is a bit much when they sell for about a dollar more than that for 100 at many stores?

I personally had a procedure recently that I was told would cost "a couple hundred". I paid $368 and the medical firm billed my insurance $502. That's bad business.

According to the Time article, hospitals often net 10-12%. Most service industry's net maybe closer to 4-6%. 

After all your investment of time & money in your profession, it's it still okay for folks to be "healed" and yet lose homes, other possessions, and have their credit ruined? Seems an honest evaluation might lead us to a more equitable and fair way to go about this. Is it not at least worth the discussion?

Seems there might be a hint of complaint in the costs associated (money and time) with you gaining your chosen profession. I admire that you've done it. However, it's hard to believe these folks have chosen to become sick or injured. Becoming broke on top of that is insult to injury, wouldn't you say?

jws1957
jws1957

@rayrod @SEANBIGG5  The whole medical industry is corrupt with greed including medical schools too.  The only way to seriously kills costs is for everyone to trash their health insurance and start paying in cash ONLY what they can afford.  I never have bought insurance and plan to boycott Obamacare.