Last summer, a college student in Philadelphia learned the hard way that the emergency room is not the cheapest healthcare option. Matt Anderson, 19, cut his finger while doing dishes in his apartment. His roommate, a concerned biology major, advised him to go to the hospital since he’d used the same knife to cut raw meat earlier that day and was afraid it could become infected.
Naively, Anderson went to the emergency room at Chestnut Hill Hospital around 11 p.m. and emerged two hours later with some liquid stitches and a bandage.
“I saw a nurse for maybe five to 10 minutes and a doctor for maybe five minutes tops,” said Anderson.
When he received the bill a few months later, Anderson could not believe his eyes. His simple visit cost $2,782.
But why was his bill so high? Simply bad timing.
There’s no doubt that visits to the emergency room are expensive. In fact, the average cost of an ER visit is $1,500. After checking into the emergency room, Anderson waited until the clock ticked past midnight to finally see a doctor. Because of this, he was double-billed for the amount of $873, on top of a $774, including a fee charged by the hospital itself in order to make sure that its doors remain open. But since Anderson’s parent’s health insurance plan has a $4,000 deductible, they are responsible for paying the entire bill out of pocket.
Matt’s father, Todd Anderson, is especially concerned about how this setback will affect his son’s future finances.
“My son is 19, he’s trying to do everything right and build his credit, and now I’m worried this will go against [him],” Todd says. “He still feels very guilty right now. He told me he has 25 meals on his card for the semester, and maybe he could use those to get some money to pay for it.”
The American healthcare system very rarely reveals its prices, and even with insurance, these prices are subject to rise depending on hospital affiliations and contracts that patients have no control over.
This flaw in particular is what’s making the Republican motion to replace the Affordable Care Act to strong.
“The ACA did a great many things, but it didn’t do anything with costs,” according to Renee Hsia, who studies emergency medical billing at the University of California, San Francisco. “You can imagine the hospital associations lobbying against that. It’s not in their interest to change the system even though it’s dysfunctional.”
As Todd Anderson makes calls in order to fight for a lower bill, the bill from Chestnut Hill Hospital has gone into collection. After calling a number of immediate care centers, he found that the same procedure would have cost him between $150 and $225 elsewhere.