3. “Trauma fees” cost patients thousands
Vox and Kaiser Health News pull back the curtain on yet another way hospitals and insurers stick patients with expensive and surprising bills: trauma fees.
How it works: These fees were initially intended to cover the cost of having a trauma unit on call at all times, which is an expensive proposition. When ambulance EMTs radio ahead that they’re bringing in a trauma patient, those teams activate.
- Medicare will only pay trauma fees for patients who receive at least 30 minutes of critical care, and there are supposed to be two tiers of fees, depending on what the patient needs.
Yes, but: Vox and Kaiser tracked down multiple patients who were charged thousands of dollars in trauma fees even though they weren’t actually treated for trauma. One family got an $18,000 bill after a hospital told them their baby didn’t need any treatment at all.
- Medicare pays less than $1,000 for trauma fees, on average. So hospitals charge private insurers as much as $50,000. But insurers will sometimes only pay the portion they deem “reasonable,” and then hospitals bill patients for the difference.
The other side: “We are the trauma center for a very large, very densely populated area. We deal with so many traumas in this city — car accidents, mass shootings, multiple vehicle collisions,” one hospital told Vox. “It’s expensive to prepare for that.”