Shocked by those hospital bills? You are not alone.

Have you ever looked at a hospital bill with utter disbelief? You are not alone. Medical bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcy filings in the United States. The cost of hospital care can be extraordinary, especially in light of the fact that many hospitals are operated as non-profits. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that most often patients in need of urgent care have no ability or opportunity to comparison shop. Hospitals essentially operate free from market constraints.

Medical BillsIt has recently come to light that due to the manner in which hospitals establish pricing for services, the retail or gross charges to patients (before insurance payments or discounts) are entirely arbitrary. Last year, author Steven Brill outlined some of the exorbitant costs of medical care in an important Time magazine special report titled “Bitter Pill”. Using the specific examples and powerful personal narratives of ordinary people who have suffered from unreasonably high medical expenses, Brill has exposed previously hidden truths about our healthcare system that help unravel the mystery of spiraling healthcare costs. Hopefully, Brill’s research and undeniable conclusions will help create a level playing field for the general public and policymakers in understanding how to combat and perhaps one day solve the problem.

One element of Brill’s research that seemed the most surprising was the existence and function of a hospital “chargemaster.” Before “Bitter Pill,” most of us had likely never heard of a chargemaster. As the name hints, a chargemaster is responsible for assigning the retail charges for all medical procedures, services, medications and supplies at a hospital. Using supporting visual references such as hospital bills and receipts, Mr. Brill does a superb job of documenting how charges can vary depending on a patient’s coverage. One example he uses is that of a chest X-ray in which a patient was charged $333.00. The same X-ray is covered for a Medicare patient at a rate of $23.83. Another example is a case in which a patient is charged $1.50 for one acetaminophen tablet (acetaminophen is the main ingredient found in the brand name painkiller Tylenol). The price for one tablet is in the same ballpark as what an entire bottle of the generic drug may be purchased for.

Bitter Pill is a great stepping stone into the discussion of fraudulent billing. More information can be found regarding the matter of fraudulent billing of Medicaid in the Primer on Whistleblowing in Healthcare , an article co-authored by Brownstein & Nguyen attorney Jay Brownstein. An experienced attorney who handles complex litigation matters, Jay Brownstein has consulted and represented clients in whistleblower cases. If you suspect that you have been overbilled or “up-coded” as a result of a hospital or nursing home stay, contact our trusted Atlanta attorneys for a free consultation regarding healthcare whistleblowing.