Even though they should theoretically be one of the most affordable things that a hospital can provide, more than 100 patients struck by a May 2012 outbreak of food poisoning in upstate New York were hit with outrageous bills for being given intravenous bags of sterile saltwater.
According to government data, the average manufacturer’s price for an IV bag has fluctuated in recent years from 44 cents to $1, but patients were hit with hospital bills that far exceeded that: $787 for an adult, $393 for a child at one hospital and $546 for the saline, plus $127 for administering it at another.
Patients who succumbed to the food poisoning wound up with bills that included markups of 100-200 times the manufacturer’s price, not counting separate charges for “IV administration,” the NY Times reported. Some had a charge for “IV therapy” that was almost 1,000 times the official cost of the solution.
Expensive or not, the food poisoning victims needed the assistance.
“Within two hours of eating that rice that I had bought, I was lying on the ground barely conscious,” said Dr. Elizabeth Frost, 73. “I can’t believe no one died.”
Price fluctuation in something as basic as an IV bag is a very valid issue considering that more than a billion IV bags of normal saline are used in the United States each year.
“People are shocked when they hear that a bag of saline solution costs far less than their cup of coffee in the morning,” said Deborah Spak, a spokeswoman for Baxter International. Baxter is one of three pharmaceutical companies that make nearly all the IV solutions used in the United States.