Hospital overcharges hit the uninsured where it hurts

Overcharging can lead patients into bankruptcy

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How much would it cost to have your appendix removed? Appendix removal appears to be a service just like any other. Let’s say you need someone to clean your house. Depending on how big your house is, you can expect to pay a maid between $50 and $100. But if your appendix needs to go, good luck trying to figure out what it will cost you.

A recent study by California doctors shows that the cost for emergency room procedures can vary wildly from hospital to hospital. According to the study, an appendectomy could cost anywhere from $1,500 to $180,000. While some of the disparity is due to factors such as a need for intensive care, the researchers could not account for approximately one-third of the cost differences.

“Health care is not like any other service industry,” says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information websiteTHELAW.TV. “Hospital charges are unpredictable and often extremely unfair.”

That appears to be especially true if you happen to be one of the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance. Hospitals often charge uninsured patients much more than insured patients.

There have been many lawsuits involving hospital overcharges in recent years, particularly in California. In 2008, nearly 53,000 uninsured patients received $113 million worth of refunds after their class action lawsuit against a hospital group was settled. One year earlier, another class action suit in California resulted in $473 million worth of refunds for uninsured patients.

Uninsured emergency room patients seem to be in the center of the crosshairs. At many hospitals across America, patients without insurance are charged double or even triple the rates of the insured patients who receive the exact same treatment. Those uninsured patients are often unable to pay their bills. After months of harassing calls from bill collectors, many uninsured patients end up in bankruptcy court.

“It’s an awful situation and something that should never happen,” explains Sweet. “Nobody should end up bankrupt because they were overcharged at the hospital.”

One way to avoid being overcharged is to check your admission agreement and inquire about the charges when you register at the emergency room, but that can be more difficult than it sounds.

“When people go to the emergency room, it’s a stressful situation,” adds Sweet. “It’s not always possible to focus on the costs or carefully read an admission agreement when you or a loved one is suffering.”

If you are finding it nearly impossible to pay your hospital bills, you should contact an attorney. A bankruptcy lawyer can help you restructure your finances and greatly reduce your hospital payments or eliminate those payments completely.