A 54-year-old man who went to the Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in North Carolina to treat a snake bite last summer said he was left in shock after the hospital sent him a bill of more than $89,000 after an 18-hour stay.
Eric Ferguson of Mooresville, N.C., told the Charlotte Observer that one evening last August while he was taking out the trash he felt what he thought was a bee sting. He quickly realized that he had been bitten by a snake when he looked down and saw fang marks on his foot. He said he drove himself to the hospital 15 miles away where he was treated with anti-venom medicine.
He was later shocked to discover that his time at the hospital cost $89,227, according to a bill the hospital issued and more than $81,000 of that amount was for a four-vial dose of anti-venom.
Alarmed at the price, Ferguson and his wife, Laura, 54, did some research online and discovered that retail prices for the anti-venom ranged from $750 to $12,000 per vial – a much cheaper option than the more than $20,000 per vial charged by the hospital.
Under Medicare the four-vial dose of medicine would have cost $9,460.
Since his treatment was covered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Eric Ferguson's bill was reduced to $20,227 with the insurance company's contractual discount. The couple ended up paying $5,400 to cover their deductible and co-pays.
While the medical care he received was "beyond phenomenal," Ferguson said, "it was just the sticker shock" that made him and his wife angry. Even with a Blue Cross discount, he explained that he and his wife had to pay twice what Medicare would have paid for the same treatment.
"What if it was someone that didn't have the resources to research and didn't have insurance?" said Laura Ferguson. "What is fair and equitable here?"
Asked to comment on the snake bite billing, Lake Norman Regional Medical Center officials provided a written statement: "… Hospitals only collect a small percentage of our charges, or 'list prices.' We are required to give Medicare one level of discount from list price, Medicaid another, and private insurers negotiate for still others. … If we did not start with the list prices we have, we would not end up with enough revenue to remain in operation. … Our costs for providing uncompensated care are partially covered by higher bills for other patients.
"In some cases, Lake Norman Regional's charge is considerably higher than other local hospitals," the statement said.