A Tale Of Two CT Scanners — One Richer, One Poorer

Benjamin Hynden, a monetary adviser in Fort Myers, Fla., hadn’t been feeling effectively for a number of weeks final fall. He’d had ache and discomfort in his stomach.

In October, he lastly made an appointment to see his physician about it. “It wasn’t severe,” he stated. “It was just kind of bothersome. It just kind of annoyed me during the day.”

The internist, Dr. John Ardesia, checked him out and referred him for a CT scan at a close-by imaging heart. The radiologist didn’t see something mistaken on the pictures, and Ardesia didn’t suggest any therapy.

A couple of weeks later, Hynden, who has a high-deductible medical insurance coverage with Cigna, got a bill for $268. He paid it and moved on.

But three months later, in mid-January, Hynden was nonetheless feeling awful. He referred to as up Ardesia’s workplace once more. This time, the physician wasn’t obtainable. A nurse practitioner, involved that Hynden is likely to be affected by appendicitis, suggested him to go to the hospital immediately.

“I was a little worried,” Hynden recalled. “When he told me to go to the ER, I felt compelled to take his advice.”

Hynden arrived later that morning at Gulf Coast Medical Center, one in all a number of hospitals owned by Lee Health within the Fort Myers space. The triage nurse advised him the issue wasn’t his appendix, however she urged he stick round for some extra exams — together with one other CT scan — simply to be protected.

“It was the exact same machine. It was the exact same test,” Hynden stated.

The outcomes had been additionally the identical because the October scan: Hynden was despatched dwelling with no definitive analysis.

And then the invoice got here.

Patient: Benjamin Hynden, 29, a monetary adviser in Fort Myers, Fla.

Total Bill: $10,174.75, together with $eight,897 for a CT scan of the stomach

Service Provider: Gulf Coast Medical Center, owned by Lee Health, the dominant well being care system in southwest Florida.

(Story continues beneath.)

Medical Procedure: A computed tomography scan, generally referred to as a CT or CAT scan, makes use of X-rays to create cross-sectional photographs of the physique. Hynden received his October scan at Summerlin Imaging Center, a standalone facility in Fort Myers that provides a variety of diagnostic exams, together with X-rays, MRI and CT scans.

Rick Davis, co-owner of Summerlin, stated his heart is small and unbiased, so he doesn’t have a lot bargaining energy. That means insurance coverage firms just about dictate what he can cost for a scan. In Hynden’s case that was $268, together with the price of a radiologist to learn the pictures.

Ultimately, what Medicare decides to pay for a scan units the usual. “The Medicare fee schedule is what all the other companies use as their guideline,” Davis stated. “It’s basically the bible. It’s what everyone goes by.”

Benjamin Hynden was stunned when he obtained a invoice for a CT scan that was 33 instances increased than a scan he obtained months earlier than at an imaging clinic. (Alison Kodjak/NPR)

Summerlin’s workplace supervisor, Kimberly Papiska, stated that the utmost the middle ever payments for a CT scan is $1,200, however that the charges insurance coverage firms pay are often lower than $300.

Hynden was shocked when he received the second CT scan in January, and the listed value was $eight,897 — 33 instances what he paid for the primary check.

Gulf Coast Medical Center is a part of his Cigna insurance coverage plan’s accepted community of suppliers. But even with Cigna’s negotiated low cost, Hynden was on the hook for $three,394.49 for the scan. The extra ER prices added one other $261.76 to that invoice.

What Gives: We referred to as Gulf Coast Medical Center and its dad or mum firm, Lee Health, to grasp why they billed practically $9,000 for a single check. No one on the well being heart or hospital would comply with an interview.

Lee Health spokeswoman Mary Briggs responded with an emailed assertion: “Generally that it is not unusual for the cost of providing a CT scan in an emergency department to be higher than in an imaging center. Emergency department charges reflect the high cost of maintaining the staffing, medical expertise, equipment, and infrastructure, on a 24/7-basis, necessary for any possible health care need — from a minor injury to a gunshot wound or heart attack to a mass casualty event.”

Do the hospital’s prices and preparations justify an inventory value that’s a lot increased than the close by imaging heart’s tab? We requested some specialists in medical billing and administration for his or her ideas.

Emergency rooms typically cost individuals with insurance coverage some huge cash to make up for the free care they supply to uninsured sufferers, stated Bunny Ellerin, director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management program at Columbia Business School in New York. “Often those people are what they call in the lingo ‘frequent flyers,’” Ellerin stated. “They come back over and over again.”

She stated hospitals additionally attempt to get as a lot cash as they’ll out of personal insurance coverage firms to offset decrease reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

Even in that context, the value of Hynden’s CT scan was off the charts.

Healthcare Bluebook, a well being care pricing software, says the range for an abdominal CT scan with distinction, like Hynden had, in Fort Myers is between $477 and about $three,700. It pegs a good value at $595.

The increased value from Gulf Coast Medical Center and its dad or mum firm could possibly be a results of their monumental pricing energy in Fort Myers, stated Gerard Anderson, a professor of well being coverage and administration at Johns Hopkins University.

Lee Health owns the 4 main hospitals within the Fort Myers space, in addition to a kids’s hospital and a rehabilitation hospital, based on its web site. It additionally owns a number of doctor practices within the space. When you drive round Fort Myers, the blue-green Lee Health emblem seems on buildings all over the place.

“Anybody who’s in Fort Myers is going to want to get care at these hospitals. So by having a dominant position, they have great bargaining power,” Anderson stated. “So they can raise their rates, and they still do OK.”

Anderson stated his analysis exhibits hospital consolidation has been driving costs increased and better lately. And as a result of increasingly more individuals, like Hynden, have high-deductible insurance plans, they’re extra prone to be on the hook for enormous payments.

So Lee Health and different dominant hospital techniques mark up most of their companies on their grasp tariffs — the listing that costs a CT scan at Lee Health at $eight,897. Anderson calls these lists “fairy-tale prices” as a result of virtually nobody really pays them.

“Everybody who’s taken a look at it agrees — including the CFO of the organization — that it’s a fairy-tale thing, but it does have relevance,” Anderson stated.

The relevance is that insurance coverage firms usually negotiate what they’ll pay at discounted charges from listing costs.

So from the grasp value of $eight,897, Cigna negotiated Hynden’s invoice right down to $5,516.14 — a reduction of just about 40 p.c. Then Cigna paid $2,864.08, leaving Hynden to pay the remainder.

“If it wasn’t for that CT scan, I don’t think this whole thing would have been so difficult and so blatantly obvious that they’re extremely overcharging for that service,” Hynden stated.

Resolution: Hynden by no means received a definitive analysis from the CT scans. Several weeks after his second check, nevertheless, he went to a close-by pressing care heart, additionally run by Lee Health, and underwent an ultrasound on his stomach. That check, which value about $175, revealed some benign cysts that he stated his physician stated are prone to go away on their very own.

The Takeaway: Tests and companies are virtually all the time going to be dearer in an emergency room or hospital setting. If your physician suggests you go to an ER, it is likely to be price asking whether or not an pressing care or walk-in clinic would suffice.

Sources: Explanations of Benefits supplied by Benjamin Hynden and interviews.

This is a month-to-month characteristic from Kaiser Health News and NPR that may dissect and clarify actual medical payments so as to make clear U.S. well being care costs and to assist sufferers learn to be extra lively in managing prices. Do you might have a medical invoice that you just’d like us to see and scrutinize? Submit it here and inform us the story behind it.

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