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Explosive Journalism - Opinion Columns by Michael Giardina

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Pregnant men, circumcised women
by Michael Giardina

When looking for its prey, a hungry lion always spots the sick deer. Targeting the weak is pure animal instinct and it's no surprise that these primal tendencies have crept into our society (we being animals and all) in their mutant form: hospitals. Yes, targeting the weak, hospitals are known for inflated prices, fraudulent bills, unreadable statements and often hilarious charges.

One Mr. Johnson of Caldwell, W.Va. was charged $25,000 for a hip replacement. Upon examining the bill, his family was surprised to see a charge for newborn blood tests and a crib mobile. Mrs. Johnson was fairly certain her husband had not given birth in the middle of a hip replacement surgery. Ouch.

Ann Klingle, a mother from Indianapolis, also had a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a moment in hospital debauchery. After giving birth, the hospital charged her the standard $125 for her baby's circumcision. Surprised, Ann was curious to know how the hospital managed to circumcise her beautiful baby girl.

As living proof of the problem, businesses that specialize in analyzing hospital bills are sprouting across the country. They claim to identify inappropriate bills and take a portion of your savings as payment.

One such company, Qmedtrix, specializes in what they call "health care cost-containment solutions." It claims to have saved its clients "one-half billion dollars in errors and abuses" in only two years. It estimates that "50 percent of all medical claims have billing errors."

Ms. Johnson, the wife of our pregnant male who, like Qmedtrix, now makes a living identifying inappropriate hospital charges, boasts an even higher percentage, noting, "More than 90 percent of the hospital bills I've audited have gross overcharges."

At least these folks have some great dinner stories to share with their families. They can jovially joke about a woman who was charged $1,133 when a hospital clipped her toenail and sent it to a lab for analysis.

They must enjoy decoding the hospital-speak gibberish used on bills. For example, guess what the $57 "cough support device" was. Give up? A teddy bear. What is a $129 "disposable mucous recovery system?" That's right, a box of tissues. Some patients received (and were charged, of course) for state-of-the-art "thermal therapy?" A bag of ice cubes.

A large percentage of hospital bills is paid by health insurance companies who aren't directly involved with the hospital or the hospitalized. In these situations, hospitals have the opportunity to rack up charges. They hope that, since patients only pay a deductible, complaints will not be filed. In all likelihood, the hospital is trying to make up the losses incurred by those without healthcare who cannot afford the pricey bills.

Nowadays, it is law for hospitals to provide consumers with a complete pricelist for every service they offer. Unfortunately, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, prices are not listed for complete procedures. They are broken down into every minute detail for the procedure, like "the cost of inserting intravenous feeding tubes." Because these procedures are given codes and placed in a book that, according to the Chronicle, weighs more than a newborn, it is unlikely this list is useful to patients.

So, what's the solution to this problem? Try not to get sick. It's no fun, anyway.