CHANDLER, Ariz. - Medical bills in America have jumped 25 percent in the last six years, with more of the cost being shouldered by consumers. But what happens when that cost is well above average?
A Valley man recently received a bill that he thought was outrageous and reached out to Call 12 For Action for help.
“All of a sudden, (it was) like a knife got stuck in my back,” Marv Wessel told 12 News, about the back pain he experienced last year. “Tears, tears. When it comes to pain, it's the worst pain I ever experienced.”
The pain was caused by a pinched nerve. And after spending three days in the hospital, Wessel was able to go home and get back to work.
Then, about a year later, Wessel received a bill from the hospital for $35,247.
“Boom, $36,000. We're like, excuse me? That's not going to work,” Wessel said.
Wessel's medical bills were drastically inflated.
Our Call 12 For Action investigation discovered he was charged nearly 10 times more than the going rate for some procedures. For instance, the hospital billed Wessel $11,180 for an MRI. But the Healthcare Bluebook, which is designed to inform patients about average prices for healthcare, reports the “fair price” for the same MRI is just $1,156.
So Wessel called the hospital over and over, trying to get ahold of someone who could negotiate the bill. But his calls lead to responses like: “That person is not there,” Wessel said. “You can't find them. They're unattainable.”
Instead, Wessel said the hospital representatives he could get a hold of told him to pay the bill or set up a payment plan -- or else the bill would go to collections.
Wessel certainly isn't the only patient who's struggling to negotiate healthcare and simply afford it. A Kaiser Family Foundation / New York Times survey found 67 percent of people who attempt to negotiate their medicals bills were unsuccessful.
This comes as healthcare now costs Americans $3.2 trillion every year.
“It's the majority of the public that are actually really feeling the pinch and the confusion right now,” said Swapna Reddy, an attorney and Arizona State University Clinical Assistant Professor.
Reddy is a health care policy expert who studies healthcare law and disparities. She advocates for patients to be informed about their healthcare and prices associated with it.
As for why Wessel’s bills were inflated – “It's hard to say,” Reddy said. “I think it's more of an issue of errors than a hospital trying to be nefarious and trying to get as much money as possible.”
In Wessel's case, there was no error. Although he couldn't negotiate the price of his medical bills, Call 12 For Action did.
Wessel ended up paying just $10,000, less than a third of the original bill. He also signed a non-disclosure and agreed not to name the hospital.
“It's terrible, terrible, you're at their mercy,” Wessel said. “You need care, you're in pain, you need something to be done. When you find out what it costs you, that's when the big surprise comes up.”
If you have a consumer complaint, Call 12 For Action is here for you. Submit a complaint here and our team of investigators will get to work for you.