Health

Family Was Charged $629 for a Band-Aid During Hospital Visit

Even the simplest trip to the hospital can result in shockingly high bills. But the breakdown of costs can be confusing and frustrating for patients whose bills don't seem to line up with the service they received.

One family found this out when they brought their daughter in for a small cut on her finger.

According to medical bills provided to Vox, a Danbury, Connecticut hospital charged Malcolm Bird and his family $629 for their visit, which he says consisted of some very basic tasks: The doctor "literally runs the finger under the tap, dries it, puts a Band-Aid on it, and says that's it," he told Vox.

Six hundred and twenty-nine dollars (or even the $440 the Birds owed after insurance) seems like an exorbitant amount for what seems like a Band-Aid and some reassurance. The breakdown of the bill actually only puts the small bandage at $7 (still an expensive Band-Aid!) — the rest of the costs are traced to actually seeing a doctor and having the tools of a staffed emergency room at the family's disposal, 24-hours a day.

Band-Aid

These so-called "facility fees" are standard in hospitals across the U.S., but as Vox notes, they can vary wildly and are virtually unpredictable — even for the most common procedures.

Facility fees are there for a reason. Speaking about the high costs associated with large hospitals and health care providers, Harold Miller, CEO of the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform told Medical Economics that:

"'There is a legitimate case to be made that they charge more than others,' he said. 'People will be unhappy when a hospital is closed at night, and they have a heart attack.'"

But others say that the costs can seem almost random and too pricey for being a simple overhead fee.

"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, which can be really frustrating. There are some places where the basic facility fee can be over $1,000," Renee Hsia, a University of California San Francisco professor who studies hospital bills, told Vox.

Facility fees have recently become a controversial facet of America's ballooning healthcare costs in recent years. They helped contribute to more than $1 billion in taxpayer costs on Medicare spending over the last decade, according to a Center for Public Integrity report.

Hospital

While extra costs are a fact of medical visits, some have called for facility fees to be reevaluated depending on services performed. "If the nature of the visit is identical, it shouldn't cost more money," Dolores Mitchell, head of the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission, told the Center for Public Integrity.

One problem is that hospitals aren't required under federal law to make their facility fees public. That makes it hard, Mitchell told the CPI, for hospitals with a revenue stream to simply "turn off the spigot." It can also create problems for prospective patients to whom added costs are invisible.

Other proponents say that a fully-stocked, 24-hour ER room is worth whatever it costs. But as the Bird's case shows, it can sometimes seem irrationally high — and not even necessary. According to Vox, after Malcolm Bird asked to contact the hospital's general counsel, and after a Vox reporter inquired about the breakdown of the facility fees, the hospital had it dropped.

[h/t Vox]