SOUTHPORT, NC (WECT) - There's nothing like a trip to the hospital to show you first hand just how expensive health care has become. That's a lesson a Brunswick County man just learned the hard way.
Robert Caser, 55, is now trying to figure out how to pay a huge bill for a short trip to Dosher Memorial Hospital.
Caser went to an urgent care this spring with a sharp pain in his side. Three days later, he wasn't much better. The discomfort prompted him to make an after-hours trip to the Dosher Memorial Emergency Room. Caser says before they conducted a single test, he asked how much it would cost, and continued to ask, but could never get an answer.
Caser doesn't have health insurance. He knew going to the hospital wouldn't be cheap, but he had no idea that it would cost him almost $14,000 until he got the bill in the mail about a month later.
"I was like, 'Holy moly! That can't be right,'" said Caser. "I just thought, 'That can't be right. This is a misprint.'"
Unfortunately, Dosher Memorial said there was no misprint. Caser ended up staying overnight after getting a shot for the pain that hospital staff told him would make him unable to drive. During his overnight stay, doctors performed more than a dozen tests and procedures, including a stress test with a $7,400 price tag.
Caser thought many of the tests were unnecessary, but hospital physicians say once you show up in the ER, they have no choice but to conduct a thorough evaluation.
"If we have a patient come in, and they've just got some abdominal pain, and you think it's because of something they ate, some bad food, seafood somewhere, and you send them home, and it's a ruptured appendix and you're wrong, you are going to be liable for that situation," explained Dr. Brad Hilaman, Dosher Memorial's Chief Medical Officer.
Caser says doctors ultimately determined he had a strained muscle rather than a dire medical problem. The mundane diagnosis made Caser's hefty hospital bill that much harder to accept.
"I think when I left they said you're fine," explained Caser. "I'm thinking, $14,000 to tell me I'm fine? I felt like it was very deceptive. They should have been more up front."
We asked Dennis Coffey, Dosher Memorial's Chief Financial Officer, why the hospital staff wouldn't tell Caser up front how much the tests would cost. Coffey says most clinicians don't know the prices for the thousands of billable services provided by the hospital.
He also said knowing the price might prompt patients to forgo an important test.
"You're asking the patient and the clinician to determine, based on a financial situation, whether or not the care is appropriate," said Coffey. "Care should be provided based on the medical need, not on the financial ramifications."
Dosher officials say a $14,000 bill is unusually high for a short trip to the hospital. They say a typical ER visit costs about $2,000. The hospital has discounted Caser's bill by several thousand dollars since he doesn't have insurance, but he says it will still be a struggle to pay the reduced bill.
Hospital officials estimate that about half of the people who come to their ER are there for primary care issues, not true emergencies. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke, or something of that magnitude, doctors say you should go straight to the ER.
If your ailment is not life threatening, you and your wallet may be much better off if you can wait to be seen by your regular doctor or at an urgent care.
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