Eric Ferguson, 54, of Mooresville, N.C. felt the sting of his hospital bill after being treated for a snake bite at nearby Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. Ferguson and his wife, who are insured, received a bill totaling over $89,000 for his brief stay at the facility.
Ferguson was taking trash out last August when he felt what he thought was a bee sting on his foot. He was shocked when looked down and saw the fang marks from a snake bite. He drove himself to the nearby hospital, some 15 miles away.
He was at the hospital for 18 hours and he characterized his care as “beyond phenomenal.” It was the bill that upset him.
“It was just sticker shock,” he said.
The treatment was eventually paid for by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. With the negotiated discounts the hospital extends to insurers, the total bill was settled for $20,227. The Fergusons paid about $5,400 of that to cover the deductible and co-pays.
What upset Mr. Ferguson’s wife, Laura Ferguson, was that she was able to find the vials of snake bite medicine on the Internet for retail prices ranging from $750 to $12,000. The hospital initially billed the Fergusons $20,000 per vial. Ferguson was administered four vials.
“What if it was someone that didn’t have the resources to research and didn’t have insurance?” Laura Ferguson said. “What is fair and equitable here?”
Lake Norman Regional Medical Center is owned by Health Management Associates. HMA is currently under investigation by state and federal officials for fraud allegations. Emergency room doctors have accused the hospital of offering kickbacks to doctors for ordering unnecessary tests to increase corporate revenues.
HMA has denied those allegations.
In a written statement they have also justified the bill sent to the Fergusons, saying “list prices” on invoices are always negotiated with insurers before payment. It added that Medicare and Medicaid patients pay according to another set of discounts. They also asserted that “self-pay” patients are typically only required to pay 35 to 38 percent of the amount they see on their initial bill.