The issue of the bill was never a consideration.
My husband had been having some weird symptoms for several days and a visit to our normal doctor was met with the advice to go to the emergency room if it got worse before his appointment with the cardiologist.
We had put the dinner dishes in the dishwasher and sat down to watch a movie. Thirty minutes into the movie, he looked pale. His skin was cool and clammy to the touch. He said it felt like someone reached into his chest with a vise.
I said, “We’re going to the hospital.”
I knew he was definitely ill when he didn’t disagree. When we arrived at the hospital, the triage personnel immediately ordered an EKG to make sure that he wasn’t having a heart attack. Once we saw that it was not a heart attack, we were sent to the waiting room.
After about an hour, they sent him upstairs for a chest x-ray. A few hours later, three, I think, they finally took him back to an exam room where he repeated his family history and the list of symptoms that had concerned his doctor. The emergency room doctor scoffed at the idea that it might be his heart, telling him it was probably muscle pain.
But they kept him for another hour, to see if the pain would subside and ran another EKG. The doctor decided to treat it like angina, despite only a slight oddity in the EKG. When the medication caused the heartbeat to normalize, the ER doctor came back in and told my husband that he needed to take the medication daily until he saw a cardiologist. Then, they sent him home.
We saw the doctor for a total of 20 minutes. We saw a nurse for about 15 more. We were there for six and a half hours.
He saw the cardiologist a week later and after much testing, discovered that he had a previously unrecognized genetic heart condition that can be treated with daily medication. Total cost to find this out: $6,500.
The visit to the cardiologist, including interpretation of the testing, cost a little over $1,000. We discussed our financial situation with the cardiologist’s office and had the bill reduced by 40 percent. They accepted monthly payments and my husband needs to see him once every six months.
The radiology department, for the x-ray and subsequent testing ordered by the cardiologist, was about $200.
All the rest was the local hospital’s bill. In theory, the hospital has a program to discount bills for the uninsured. They gave us a brochure about it when we checked in at the Emergency Room. But it certainly didn’t work that way.
We called the hospital the day after the visit to the ER to attempt to apply. I got voice mail. That was in May, 2010. They never returned the call.
Then, I got online at the hospital website and downloaded the application. I sent it in. Sixty days later we got a letter that said they needed additional pay stubs, to cover a full three months of pay stubs.
I called again and left a message for the woman who had signed the letter, explaining that my husband is paid once a month. The three pay stubs I sent covered three months. I got no return call.
Another 30 days later, we received a letter that said the request for a reduced bill was denied based on failure to submit three months worth of pay stubs. I sent a letter explaining that we had sent three months of pay stubs. I got the notice from the collection agency the next day.
We are still trying to resolve this with the hospital, but the bill is outrageous. The medication they gave him is part of the $4 per month prescriptions at the local grocery store. They gave him one dose.
I understand that they ran tests and that the machinery is not cheap. I’m not certain that it justifies the roughly $815 per hour that the hospital is charging. Since most of that time was spent sitting in a waiting room, I’m not sure that they can justify the charges.